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You read the books, take the classes and talk to trusted loved ones. You think back to when you watched friends and family go through it and you tell yourself, “this will be hard but I can do it.” And then it finally happens to you and you think, “this is so much harder than I thought.” Your body changes (again), your hormones change (again) and you fall harder, faster and more intensely than any love story you’ve ever seen or read about.
Motherhood. It’s a powerful thing.
It’s not glamorous and sometimes its not even particularly sanitary, but that first week postpartum is full of changes and discoveries that come along once in a lifetime. I was fearful I would forget it all once the blur of my new life came into focus, so I decided to document the journey in photos and share via my Instagram account.
There has been crying (mostly mine) and diapers (mine and my son), and my breasts were exposed to what seemed like no less than 37 people while I was in the hospital and adjusting to breastfeeding. It’s been beautiful and raw, and I’m glad I captured the memories… the good, the bad and even the embarrassing!
After delivery I was so nauseated that one nurse had to hold my son to my breast while he nursed and a second held a bag to catch my vomit. I've never felt so exposed in my life, yet in the moment I didn't care who saw what. More than 12 hours after my c-section I was able to drink water without feeling sick, and later that night (or perhaps the next day, time was a blur) I was given Jell-O to eat. Believe me when I say that no food in the history of the world has ever tasted so good. Though it's quite likely my judgement has been clouded by my pain medication.
In between sleeping, vomiting, breastfeeding and offering (unsuccessfully) to cut a deal with the nurse if she would agree to keep my catheter in a little longer so I could avoid walking to the bathroom, I watch my husband with our son. He talks to him, sings to him, holds him and stares in amazement and wonder. In my lifetime I have been lucky enough to travel extensively and see much of the world, but this is by far the best view I've ever had.
Two days postpartum. My catheter is out and I finally did conquer that walk to the bathroom. I'm wearing hospital "granny" panties and a diaper, and started to develop a rash on my abdomen. My incision burns like someone squirted Sriracha sauce into my open wound, and I made use of that diaper when I got up to walk. My nipples feel so raw that I question whether or not someone rubbed them with sandpaper while I was sleeping. Then I remembered that I haven't really slept in two days.
Home at 4 days postpartum: My milk is in and my breasts are like granite boulders. I've learned that breasts don't leak, they flow like a faucet. I had a terrible allergic reaction to my post-surgery abdominal girdle and now have this rash and welts all over my midsection. This is the reality of my belly from all angles. No BM since the morning of my surgery, and it's incredibly uncomfortable. On the flip side, when that "dam breaks" it's going to be equally painful! I'm still learning to manage the c-section pain. Today I didn't anticipate how hard it would be to walk to the bathroom and didn't make it in time. When I finally reached the toilet I sobbed and sobbed as my nipple pad fell out and a pool of breast milk formed at my feet. At least the bathroom is now freshly bleached! Hospital granny panties are heaven and I will wear them forever (or until I run out). I'm wearing pads that may as well be diapers. And sometimes they still aren't enough protection (see above re: bathroom trips). C-section pain and incision are both hard to ignore, but progressing each day.
And I'd do it all over again tenfold for my son. But I can't lie, it's pretty darn hard at times!
Previewing my agenda for the day: breastfeeding and suppositories. A winning combination! Still no movement on that "issue" and I'm hoping this will help.
Prepping for my first shower in two days: 1. Feed the baby 2. Double check he is full 3. Triple check he is full 4. Hand him to my mom to burp 5. Quadruple check he is full 6. Reluctantly walk to bathroom 7. Change mind and check on him for a fifth time 8. Remind myself it's been only 15 minutes since a very long feeding and try to assuage my guilt by convincing myself I deserve a shower 9. Cry (thanks, hormones!) 10. Step into shower 11. Apply shampoo to hair 12. Hear baby screaming his signature "feed me now!" cry 13. Leave shampoo in wet hair and exit shower immediately 14. Cry from the guilt 15. Run to guest bedroom to feed him 16. Decide to attempt shower again in 1-2 years.
The new mom's version of happy hour: A 5:30 p.m. attempt at a BM. Wet (hospital) panties (granny-style) on the floor, aka I peed my pants again because I didn't make it to the toilet in time. This stylish postpartum abdominal girdle (taking a break from it while I work on some important "bathroom business"). Massively swollen feet and ankles, thanks to all that good fluid they pump you with during your c-section and post-op. My beloved Squatty Potty. Because...constipation. Still.
One week in and today I was overcome with what I think is a bout of postpartum depression. I called my doctor right away and scheduled an immediate appointment. Referring to such feelings as simply "baby blues" seems insulting to the magnitude of these emotions. I couldn't stop crying. I felt like a failure. I wondered if I was even doing my son any good by being around him, and yet I had no idea why or where these feelings were coming from. His face and the overwhelming love I feel for him kept me going. At one point I sat with ice packs on my engorged breasts, eating a ham & cheese croissant while I sobbed. I was honest and upfront about my feelings with my husband and mother as soon as I felt them coming on. I'm aware this will most likely not be an isolated incident and can easily happen again, and I'm going to keep talking and sharing my feelings because I can't get through this if I'm not honest. Once again, I can't take care of him if I don't take care of myself. If anyone else feels this way, please know you are not alone - this is completely normal and you don't have to suffer in silence. This journey was not designed to be a solo one, and asking for help is a sign of strength. Ham & cheese croissants can't cure everything, but they sure can make you smile during the hard times.
After seeing my doctor, I came home to bath time for my son. While we made an obvious rookie mistake by forgetting to use a strategically placed washcloth, I still think the first week ended on a high point. Pun intended.
Images by Becky Vieira
This post was originally published November 3, 2016; it was updated and republished February 11, 2017.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.