February 26, 2013

Postpartum Favorites: Hospital Edition

In the lobby of the hospital on check-out day!

Today, Emilia is three months old! That also means I am three months postpartum and I finally can say that I feel like myself (albeit breastfeeding, albeit softer everywhere except my arms, albeit now I am a mom!!!). I am still working on my consumer hits of pregnancy post but I wanted to share some favorites of the postpartum period.

First of all, I should acknowledge that my advice and postpartum experience are unique to my own circumstances. A c-section delivery after a vaginal birth attempt (with hours of unsuccessful pushing) has its own unique ramifications that may differ from an exclusive vaginal or surgical birth. And a vaginal birth with episiotomy or tearing will have other unique postpartum recovery needs with which I am unfamiliar. 

Before I talk about the things I've bought (in a future post), I want to suggest something that might sound a little tacky on its surface. I am recommending it anyway. If you are planning a hospital birth, I highly endorse raiding the hospital's supply goodies to set yourself up for postpartum times. Most hospitals will give new moms some key things for baby (diapers, wipes, a nasal aspirator, swaddling blankets, formula if applicable, etc.) and you should obviously take that stuff. It is encouraged! But there are plenty of goodies to help ease mom's recovery and transition to home, also. And at least in my experience, that stuff was ok to take too!

First a word about the hospital stay itself -- As a person fortunate enough to be insured for medical care, I knew I was paying my inpatient hospital deductible whether I stayed one night or three. When they offered early discharge I declined it. Some people want to be at home asap. I was not among them. If you remove the pain, discomfort, and emotions, my hospital stay felt not entirely unlike staying in a hotel. I had a private room, a pull out chair/bed for Chris (who stayed with me), helpful and experienced nurses, a lactation consultant, (surprisingly delicious) meals, and a lot of emotional support. Maybe I would have felt differently without the surgery? Or if the rooms were shared? But staying allowed both of us to ease into this new life. Although I still have hard feelings about my birth, I have fond memories of my inpatient hospital stay.

Favorite hospital goodies:
-Human-sized washable, waterproof "puppy pads" -- to save your sheets at home during your recovery and/or to use as baby changing pads on the fly.
-Large sanitary napkins -- regardless of the type of birth, these are useful.
-Mesh underwear -- soft, disposable, comfortable as hell, practical.
-Icepack pads -- to ease swelling.
-Squeezable cleansing bottle -- to help keep everything clean and sterile, gently.
-Pain relief -- this wasn't free but as a person who never had major surgery before I was not about to martyr myself by refusing to fill the prescriptions I was given. 
-Belly binder -- c-section moms can request this but I also know vaginal birth moms who swear by it. Some say it helps nudge your shape back to what it was before pregnancy. I know I needed it for counter-pressure against my incision. When the swelling went down and my hospital binder was too big, I even bought a smaller one so I could keep binding. It made a huge difference in my ability to cough, laugh, sneeze, and get up and down stairs with less pain. I am not sure if hospitals will green light these for everyone but I liked theirs better than the one I brought with me.
-Warm non-slip socks -- The ones I brought were too fuzzy and thick. The hospital-provided pair was just right.
-Lansinoh Lanolin -- To help soothe your nipples if you are breastfeeding. 
-Medela spare pump parts kit -- The lactation consultant brought a giant pack of sterile parts to me when I began pumping (with the amazing hospital grade pump) to stimulate supply. Almost everything is compatible with my pump at home. The kit also came with a hand pump that I am glad to have for trips when I don't want to bring my electric one.

Although (other than the pumps) none of the above costs a ton of money, it was so convenient to bring all of the above comfort materials home with me. I didn't have to track anything down. I didn't have to wait for shipping or get someone to run errands for me. I came home feeling really set up for postpartum recovery. And recovery was still difficult and uncomfortable. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been without my hospital stash!

February 21, 2013

Inheritance and the future

Once I knew I wanted to have a family with Chris, I began daydreaming about it... what it would be like, how our hypothetical children would look, who they would take after, etc. And when I was pregnant and this family was becoming a reality, we spoke and joked frequently about the various qualities that we hoped the little one would inherit. I said I wanted her to have my thick wavy hair and Chris's long legs. I hoped she would have Chris's work ethic and sense of optimism alongside my capacity for empathy.

Now that she is here and beginning to show more personality with every day, it is so amazing. I feel like she's a little chameleon with a face that shifts in resemblance among the faces of people I love most. I see Chris's and my mother-in-law's eyes. I see my mom's and my sister's mouths. I see my hands, my face shape, and my long nail beds.

I love seeing Emilia change and grow but it happens so rapidly. Sometimes it feels like it is happening too rapidly. For me, early motherhood has entailed this mixed bag of constant anticipation coupled with a nagging desire to slow down time. I want to savor every moment of her littleness and breathe her in each day. But I also want her to thrive. It's complicated I guess.

I asked my dad about this the other day because I was feeling especially protective of right now. I asked him if it is hard to watch your little ones grow and grow... to a point where you can no longer sweep them up and cuddle and snuggle them? The thought that she won't always fit in my arms... The idea that our physical closeness won't last forever... I anticipate the longing I will someday feel in missing those things. I imagine the longing my parents (and especially my mom) must feel for the close intimate moments with their babies. Just like one of Emilia's books articulates, you almost want to "keep them little." I knew I couldn't talk to my mom about this without sobbing like the sap that I am so I steeled myself as much as possible and said to my dad, "Is it hard to watch your children grow? In a way, don't you just want them (i.e. us) to be little forever?"

At first he joked that by the time they grow up, you as their parent badly need a break. He's right because so many aspects of this time are exhausting, no doubt. But then he paused for a moment and said reassuringly that as parents you grow with your children and whatever it is that they do in that moment becomes the best, most exciting, and sweet thing. That makes sense to me too. It has been my (albeit brief) parental experience that the stuff that I treasure absolutely corresponds with time as it elapses. But those new happy feelings don't diminish or supplant the joy felt for everything that has occurred thus far. It just makes the transitions of her growth less bitter and more sweet.

I may feel like I want to slow down time but no part of me would ever dream of holding Emilia back. I guess I am trying to say that I can and I cannot wait to see who she will be tomorrow and the next day and the next.

February 14, 2013

On dads and partnerships

My dad is pretty amazing. He is funny, talented, caring, thoughtful, hard-working, loving, and a pretty stellar partner to my mom. The example of their relationship has inspired me over the years, as they divided the responsibilities of running a home, breadwinning, and raising a family with a great deal of equity. And on this Valentine's Day I am happy to say they continue to be very much in love as well as in partnership.

I've loved Chris for a (relatively) long time now. But I think it was sharing the responsibilities of care-giving for Speck the dog that made me want to start a family with him. And watching him with Emilia makes me so happy. The first time I actually saw her, she was in Chris's arms (as mine were still tied down to the surgical table). This hazy, borderline-bittersweet, painkiller-soaked memory (and its significance as a culminating moment in our birth story) is that much less bitter because of him. The day we came home from the hospital he spent no less than a half hour toiling over the first record he would play for her in our living room. In the earliest days of my recovery when I could barely even use the stairs, he (along with our parents who each cycled through, helping us with meals, housecleaning, dog-walking, and baby wrangling) took such good care of both of us. He sang to the baby in Portuguese and English. He'd watch her react to different genres and tempos. And she'd gaze at him through it all. She still does.

He was the lucky recipient of her first laugh. He held her as she explored on her first museum trip. He is still a little better than I am at bouncing/rocking her to sleep (as I often rest on my breastfeeding laurels). And every day when he comes home from work I feel like we all breath a sigh of relief. He is shaping up to be the kind of father I was so lucky to have (and that I know he was lucky enough to have too).

If only there was mandatory family leave for everyone in the US...

As I reflect on my first example of love and the love that I feel for the family I started, I want to wish you and yours a Happy Valentine's Day!

February 9, 2013

Breastfeeding struggles yield silver linings

The above shows me on my first walk around the neighborhood with baby Emilia. It was one week postpartum which was about 9 weeks ago. If I could go back in time and give my "then" self a hug, I would. Because it was my first birth and I hadn't anticipated folding recovery from major surgery into my postpartum story, things were harder than I imagined. The hormonal shifts were a lot to sort through. I was holding onto the hurt feelings I wrote about in my birth and recovery post. And I was physically very sore and uncomfortable. On top of all of the above, I was adjusting to the responsibilities and pressures of being a new mom... a new mom who wanted desperately to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship with my baby.

Tummy time is also a struggle!

Exclusive breastfeeding was among of the goals I had all along. During pregnancy a few people asked about my feeding intentions. Whenever I would describe them I included the caveat, "if we are able to, I would like," because I know that desire alone doesn't make something possible.

But after I had Emilia, I came to view breastfeeding as my own personal reparation for a birth that didn't go according to plan. In retrospect I see how selfish that might sound on the surface. Babies can and do thrive with formula, breast milk, or a combination of the two. So to be rigid for my own ego was ridiculous. I also don't mean to insinuate judgment toward those for whom such a goal is not possible and/or not desired. I don't believe formula fed babies are less healthy or less bonded with their parents. And I hate that the subject breeds such division among families. I am strongly pro-choice in my approach to the politics of motherhood and reproduction and I've come to view this as another aspect of reproductive rights. And although it was a very emotional time for me, fraught with anxiety and self-doubt, I can thank the period during which I began pumping and had to supplement for the relative autonomy and independence I enjoy already (to be explained below). Thank goodness women have choices in terms of their reproduction and in terms of their mothering!

Still, my desire to breastfeed intensified after I had her. It came to represent a regaining of control after feeling like I lost my sense of agency. I thought that asserting myself after going through something I regarded to be traumatic could heal me. 

The pressure to breastfeed was something I half-invented and half-absorbed from the world around me. And inherently, that pressure is one that puts another human being's life in your care. Reaching my goal was especially difficult because my milk was delayed from surgery. When I was in the hospital I saw their lactation consultant who was supportive but also firm in her belief that we could do this without a nipple shield or medical supplements. To stimulate my supply, she brought me the hospital grade pump to borrow along with a huge kit of pump parts that were mine to keep. I began pumping on a schedule to try to coerce supply. During this time, E lost more weight than was safe so we had to give her formula.* I was devastated because yet again I made myself feel like a failure. I failed to have her vaginally and I failed to make enough milk for her. It added insult to the injury of my surgery and it broke my heart.

Because of length, I've put the rest of the story behind a page break.