My Postpartum Experience (#motherhood, #parenting, #postpartum, #fourthtrimester)

As our lion cub is nearing his six month birthday and gaining more independence, I’m finding the time and energy to reflect on my postpartum experience. I want to document this for future reference for myself and for anyone else going thru postpartum.

Immediately after childbirth, I had a pretty good recovery. I gave birth at home, unmedicated, and so I was conscious and clear-headed within seconds of Little Lion’s birth. Getting to be at home with the whole family (my husband, our dog..) and in my bed after that crazy adrenaline surge was amazing. There is no other experience quite like it. I was tired from pushing for four hours, but I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet (Mistake #1), so we had my in-laws come over and meet their first grandson. They commented at the calmness and peacefulness of our household despite the excitement and activity only hours earlier. Our lion cub slept next to me that night, but I barely slept because I was so excited; ‘There was a baby next to me.. That I had pushed out only hours earlier.. All-natural, at home, unmedicated.. I did it!!’

The months after childbirth are commonly referred to as The Fourth Trimester. It’s the adjust and adapt period: the hormones are regulating, the baby is learning to eat and sleep, and the new parents are rearranging their schedules and barely sleeping. Usually after this period, the new parents will gain some confidence and feel like they finally have a grasp on things (and maybe get some sleep!). 

Postpartum Help 

After the birth, a nurse from my birth center came to check on me and the baby and to teach me when to feed, when to pee (yup, you read that right), and what vitals to monitor. My doula, who was present the whole day, came back within a couple days to “debrief” me 🙂 And my midwife and her assistant both called and were available by phone to answer any questions we had. I really appreciated the open line of communication because I was so glossy-eyed over this baby that I was forgetting what I had learned beforehand! It was great to have people help us process what had happened.

The Lion and I are extremely fortunate in that we have family members close-by who are ready and willing to help us. Grandpa and Grandma Lion live within a quick drive, and Grandma Wolf is retired and can come spend a few weeks with us at a time. Our lion cub arrived right around the holidays, so my sisters in law were around and came to make food, fold laundry, sweep and dust, and keep us company. It was a lot of fun to have everyone over, with Christmas spirit in the air, and the arrival of a new baby 🙂 The next day, Grandma Wolf flew in and stayed for three months. My mom did ALL the laundry and ALL the cooking (except breakfast) and ALL the cleaning. I’m not sure how we would have survived in those first three months without her help! I was definitely ready by the end of my mom’s stay to try it on my own and find our own rhythm, but when we were sleep-deprived and trying to work out the breastfeeding thing, I really appreciated not having to worry about our next meal or having clean underwear (although I did run out once…………………….).

Within the first month or so, I invited some of my closest friends to come visit me, and I took them up on their generous offer to help (#unashamed). I asked them to bring their homemade chocolate chip cookies, I asked them to bring lunch, I asked to borrow their Moby wrap for our Little Lion, I asked them to grab me some olive oil and travel-sized bottles, I asked them to buy a Christmas outfit for the baby, I asked them for Pressed Juicery and acai bowls… These were friends who have either had babies or know what it’s like for new moms. I knew I wasn’t going to get judged for accepting help, I knew I didn’t have to shower or dress up, and I knew that they wouldn’t mind seeing my under eye bags or messy hair or postpartum belly. They were so loving and kind (and still are!), and I think having that support and encouragement (and advice!) really helped me a lot. Moms GET each other.

We are also fortunate in that my husband has the flexibility to change his work schedule and work from home as needed. The Lion worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy within the first month when I was bedridden for most of the day. He made a big breakfast every day, he took over walking our dog TWICE a day, he ran for groceries after work, AND he got up to change diapers multiple times in the night. And somehow, he did all this while managing to have a good sense of humor and patience for me (and my mom 😉 ).

Recovery 

I did have some incontinence afterwards. My pelvic floor was s o r e and felt non-existent. I also had a tear and required some stitches, so I was pretty sensitive and tender down below. It was difficult to get in and out of bed, and walking short distances took a lot of time and effort. I didn’t immediately go back to practicing kegels because I was afraid of ruining the stitches. I also had hemorrhoids, which made going to the bathroom and even just sitting down a big challenge. I relied on my arms and my core a lot to help me sit up in bed to breastfeed in the middle of the night! My core was okay–I had made sure to keep up my core workouts during pregnancy, and at my six week check up, my midwife pressed around my abdomen and commented that my core was pretty strong, woohoo! (#poledoesabodygood)

One midwife that I had interviewed had told me she usually recommends her clients stay inside for a few weeks: “a week in the bed, a week around the bed, and a week around the house.” I required much more time than that. I had thought that by having a natural, unmedicated birth meant that I would bounce back quickly, but it definitely takes a lot of time and patience to allow your body to heal!

Breastfeeding ( . )( . ) 

I will be writing a separate, more in-depth post about my breastfeeding experience, but the short of it is that we had a tough time with breastfeeding.

My milk came in about four days after giving birth. I did not realize (or remember?) that this would happen, and when I became engorged for the first time, I thought I had mastitis! I was terrified, not to mention I felt like a truck had hit me (and left me with humongous boulder boobs). I felt very sick, and my chest hurt so bad, heavy and stretched out from being so engorged. My mom would run in and out of our bedroom to get more hot towels from the kitchen for me so I could lay them over my chest. I tried pumping it out, but the sensation was so painful I couldn’t keep it up (I also had a regular pump vs a hospital one) and so nothing much came out. It. Was. Stressful. And painful.

The first few times Little Lion latched, it hurt. I kind of expected that, this being my first baby and first time breastfeeding, my nipples were not used to having a baby sucking and pulling on them, etc. But what I didn’t expect was the abrasion on one of my nipples, which caused extreme pain, worse than giving birth. I had to call in two different lactation consultants (IBCLC-certified; why IBCLC over CLC) to find some relief and validation and advice on what to do next. My nipple took almost two weeks to completely heal, longer than anyone expected. Furthermore, Little Lion had a tongue tie, which made his suck ineffective. By the time my nipple healed and we had figured out the tongue tie issue, I was feeling very depressed and discouraged, and our Little Lion was starting to become underweight. We eventually reached a happy medium, where I could provide him with breastmilk through the bottle, and he could nurse at night or before nap time (nursing “recreationally,” as I like to call it), but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there.
I am fortunate to not have experienced mastitis, but I did have clogged ducts and the beginnings of an infection… My breast would be hard and tender, I would get a headache, and I’d have the chills. I felt like crap, and that wasn’t even mastitis! It was unpleasant enough the 2-3 times I experienced it that I work hard every day to make sure I empty out my breasts adequately (plus it helps supply stay up).

Weight loss 

During pregnancy, I ate well. I ate a lot of protein (did not really have any food aversion aside from bacon, which was a staple in our household!), a lot of veggies (to keep away the constipation), not much sugar or carb. I referenced the book Primal Moms Look Good Naked a lot. I also continued stretching and physical exercise, walking daily and dancing.

Regaining the pre-baby body (or closer to it) is still a work in progress. Every fiber of my being during the first three months postpartum was consumed with trying to figure out a solution to the breastfeeding, and so even though I received clearance from the midwife at six weeks to resume light exercise, I didn’t do anything. I don’t think I even left the master bedroom for good until at least eight weeks postpartum. I lost weight after childbirth with the fluids and placenta and hormones regulating, but I wasn’t losing much very quickly (naturally, since I wasn’t exercising), and it got kind of depressing.

My mommy friends all told me that breastfeeding helps you to lose weight, but they didn’t mention that breastfeeding also significantly increases your appetite! I was SO hungry, ALL the time. I would need to eat a meal between all the meals, and I was able to eat almost twice as much as I usually do. AND, I would wake up starving in the middle of the night! Even though I was eating all the same healthy foods as I did during pregnancy, I was eating so much of it that it was getting out of hand. My mom and my husband were both concerned because I was always telling them I was hungry… Furthermore, since my mom was doing all the cooking and wasn’t familiar with our usual serving sizes, the proportions were all out of whack (she made two servings into one serving… and I ate it ALL). I also had an unhealthy addiction to granola for about… four months. That’s A LOT of sugar to consume!

Eventually my appetite regulated, and once I taught my mom how to proportion all the food, I started noticing that I felt better and the weight came off easier. When I started walking our dog regularly again, I noticed a big change in my body shape. It took me almost five months, but I finally started going back to my dance classes, and I am doing yoga at home. I don’t do anything too intense because I can tell that I’m still regaining my strength, flexibility, and balance, and I definitely cannot afford to injure myself now. I don’t expect to regain my pre-baby body this year (although it’d be great if I did!) because I am basically starting from scratch–I haven’t done intense physical exercise in over a year! But it definitely feels good to be working towards it.

Anxiety 

A lot of my anxiety stemmed from our breastfeeding issues. It got depressing quick. And I couldn’t dig myself out of it, and I couldn’t bring myself to find help either. It was a roller coaster every day: I would wake up feeling optimistic and great, and then by evening I was a mess and depressed. Not leaving the bedroom probably didn’t help. Once we figured out the weight issue for the baby,  I felt a lot better and more hopeful. Also, healing up enough to get out of the house and get fresh air and see people made my days brighter (the seasons were changing too đŸŒ„). I also started seeing my therapist that I hadn’t seen for a year. It was good to talk to her, but looking back, it almost seemed like I wasn’t ready to accept the help. I was in a brain fog with the sleep deprivation, the breastfeeding anxiety, the physical pain… Once the Little Lion started gaining weight and I felt a little better, I stopped seeing my therapist, thinking that I had nothing left to discuss. But feeling better is not getting better.

Around four and a half months, I felt overwhelmed with all that I had to do at home. Again, I couldn’t seem to get myself together to find help. Again, I was on the roller coaster: happy and productive one day, angry and frustrated and bored the next. I think having this roller coaster of emotions gave me a false sense of security, like maybe things would pass and I would feel better for good soon. It was a denial of sorts, probably because I thought that admitting I couldn’t handle it meant that I was failing at being a mom! On the bad days, all the emotions and anxiety from the first three months regarding breastfeeding resurfaced because I hadn’t dealt with them thoroughly. Compounded with the feelings of being overwhelmed, I couldn’t handle it and lashed out. The Lion reminded me of all the available resources I had: therapy, self-help books, friends, family. I was floored. ‘Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?!’ I immediately reached for Feeling Good and called my therapist for an appointment.

I saw my therapist once a week every week for a month. Now I am going to see her every couple weeks, and I think eventually, once a  month. Talking to my therapist has been unbelievably helpful. I’ve made a lot of changes thanks to these 50 minute sessions​ with her. I look forward to getting to talk things out and have them reflected back to me, and I enjoy having my feelings validated and understood. I’ve learned a lot about self-judgment and acceptance from my therapist. Reading about how to feel good and understanding why and what causes me to feel not-good has been enlightening as well. I catch myself relapsing sometimes, but I try to combat the negativity quickly before it consumes me. Feeling Good taught me some ways to cope with negative thoughts that enter my mind, including changing specific phrasing in our thoughts and speech that we don’t notice is damaging until it’s too late.

I’ve learned to manage expectations, to have acceptance, to not judge myself, and of course, to take care of myself.

Self-Care

The Lion and I realized early on that in order for me to take care of Little Lion and the family, I needed to take care of myself. Whether it’s dinner out with friends, an exercise class, a mani/pedi, or even just some quiet time tending to our garden, I need it to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, I need it to energize me to continue with my job of caring for the family.

I realized that I needed these things. I need the time to put on a little bit of make up (or even to just brush my teeth) or to wear things that I feel comfortable in and feel like I look good in. Now, the clothes don’t need to be fancy because I need to be comfortable and able to lift my arms (aka, pick up the lion cub), and they’ll probably get spit-up on them by the end of the day anyway, but I want to look good as a new mama. None of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me, and they actually all seemed outdated and dusty from sitting in my closet untouched for 6+ months. And I definitely didn’t want to continue wearing my maternity clothes because now they were too big. So I finally decided, since I wasn’t losing the weight as quickly as I’d liked, I’m going to give my body acceptance, a break, some grace. My body went through A LOT, and I deserved to have a new wardrobe, even if it’s a small one (because my body will change again once I DO lose the weight and/or once I stop breastfeeding). I needed something that I fit in, could nurse (or pump) in, and something that I could feel GOOD about myself in! I’m happy to keep the weight and work it off slowly because I know it’s important for breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel and look good doing it.

The TL;DR of postpartum recovery is that caring for yourself, mentally and physically, is of utmost importance. Anytime that something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s the breastfeeding or feelings of anxiety, it’s time to find help, to find someone to discuss it with. I hope I remember that for next time because next time, I will have TWO lion cubs to care for!

 

Fear of childbirth, or lack thereof (#unmedicatedbirth, #pregnancy, #motherhood)

This was a draft that I had typed up during pregnancy and apparently never published! 
Recently, a good family friend asked how I was feeling, in terms of emotions. He asked if I felt scared or overwhelmed, maybe because his wife had exhibited those feelings when she was pregnant many years ago. 

I responded that I feel excited! I didn’t feel scared. I have been taking an active part in this pregnancy and childbirth process. I have been preparing to understand what pregnancy is and means, what changes my body and mind are experiencing, the work of my uterus and my placenta, relaxation techniques and comfortable positions during pregnancy and childbirth, and generally, how to adapt and accept all these changes. 

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between pain and suffering. Labor is painful, that is inevitable. But suffering? Suffering is not inevitable, suffering is a mental state. Natural labor has a rhythm, and if I am willing to ride the waves of contractions, labor will be much less suffering (but likely just as painful 😉 

I want and am excited to have an “amazing” experience!

“Decode your body messages, modify your lifestyle, and if you are worried about labor, find out how you can help yourself.” -Kitzinger Complete book of childbirth and pregnancy

Notes About The First Ten Days Of Your Life (#infancy, #life)

To my Little Lion,

I wanted to share some observations about the condition of your world at the time of and shortly after your birth, just ten days ago. It may interest you to look back on this some day, and it will be of benefit to me and your mother to remind ourselves of our good fortune, and yours.

You were born during the Winter Solstice last year (it’s New Year’s Day today, so I can already say “last year”, as if you’ve been around so long… we’re already shocked when we realize you have not been around even a month) and what’s more, you were born during a rain storm, the rarest of rare weather conditions where we currently live. Your mother and I are not superstitious people and we don’t believe there is any cosmic agency behind the concurrence of these events, I just find them remarkable because of their natural beauty, much like the nearly perfect weather conditions this morning when I finally took our dog for a walk– cool, breezy, clear, sunny, good visibility all the way off the coast to the island, fresh smelling air after another night’s rainfall.

You were born at home, as planned. The Wolf and I planned for months for that moment, as you were slowly growing inside of her belly, because we thought it gave the most advantages to you and to us. All of our friends who have had children describe the happiest part of the birth of their children as the moment they were released from the hospital and able to come home. We figured, why not just start at home and skip a few steps? We valued the privacy of it, as well. Your mother could labor anywhere she felt comfortable doing so, in an environment she knew well, with only your father and the three birth attendants (the midwife, the midwife-in-training and the doula to comfort your mother) nearby. We looked at your birth as a natural, healthy process and we were concerned that bringing you into the world in a hospital would encourage everyone around you to try to notice what might be wrong with you and your health, rather than what is right. It’s not that we’re anti-hospitals, and we appreciate that we live nearby one in case we needed extra help in bringing you into the world, we just try to live our lives simply and it seemed like we could do without. Your mother took great care to eat well, exercise, think happy thoughts, read a lot about you and how you were growing and how you’d be when you arrived, and so it seemed with such low risks to keep it that way by having you at home.

What did not go as planned was the specific day you decided to arrive! We were expecting you a few weeks from the day you were born. The Wolf and I were methodically going through our preparation checklists each day and week as your expected due date got closer. The day you were born, I was supposed to run to the market and start stocking up on supplies to feed your mother and the birth team. I didn’t get there in time! Your mother started laboring early in the morning and had pushed you out (without any drugs or medical intervention) by the afternoon! We didn’t even get the birth tub here in time for your water birth, she had you right on the bed you sleep in with us at night. The midwife was very kind and let me “catch” you as you came out. It was an exhilarating experience to grab your wet, slippery, bony, hot little body for the first time and lift you up and place you on your mother’s chest. We didn’t know what you’d be — a little boy or a little girl, though your mother says she secretly suspected you were a boy, and every passerby on our daily walks thought for sure you were a boy from the way your mother was carrying you, which is more superstition — but we were excited that you were what you were, if that makes any sense!

The birth team was so great with your mother. The doula arrived first and comforted your mother. Even though you couldn’t LEGALLY be delivered in our own bath tub (well, your bath tub, in your room), which I will tell you more about such silliness when you’re older, your mother labored in there with the doula while we waited for the midwife and her assistant to arrive. Everyone encouraged your mother and gave her the confidence and support she needed to bring you out, even though your father didn’t have any food or drink for anyone!

Your Grandma and Grandpa Lion came over to visit that first night and brought your mother and I some much needed food. They were so excited to see you! Your Grandma Wolf came a few days later, she lives a few thousand miles away and had to quickly change her plane tickets to be able to see you. She’s with us now and will be for the next few weeks. She is a big help for your mother and father, helping with sweeping, cleaning up dishes (your father is rediscovering his penchant for cooking these past few weeks), caring for your dog, doing laundry and even spending time with you which is really her greatest reward. She does all the hard work without complaint, with a smile on her face, getting to spend time with you for even a moment seems to make it all worthwhile to her. Even when you poop and pee on her, the chair, the floor and your dog during your “air time”. (Oh, and your Grandma Wolf is super obsessed with you staying warm, she is always chiding me about it.)

Your Auntie Lionesses came by and pitched in, too. They helped change bed sheets, sweep floors and they gave your mother and father an awesome early Christmas gift– six nights of meals that we packaged and put in the freezer to make more time available for me and your mother to spend with you. You’ve had a few visitors already, mostly your mother’s friends and some of Grandma and Grandpa Lion’s friends. They’ve bought food, gifts and good wishes. We didn’t have a name for you at first. Well, we did, but we hadn’t settled on it. So the first five days of your life created an obsessive mystery for many of the people who care about you. We “revealed” your name on Christmas Day while visiting at Grandma and Grandpa Lion’s house and everyone was overjoyed. Your Grandpa Wolf doesn’t get to meet you, but he gets to enjoy being part of your namesake, which we hope you will be able to appreciate some day.

As I said before, it is hard for your mother and I to believe you’ve only been with us for ten days now. All you know of the world is our bedroom, our living room, our kitchen, the view of the sky on the way to the local bakery and back, the ceiling of your mother’s car, and a few rooms of Grandma and Grandpa Lion’s house. The only people you know about are the few people who have come to see you so far, and most of them looked like funny blurs to you that you couldn’t focus on. You might imagine there are three animals in the whole world, your dog and your grandma and grandpa’s two dogs. We try to keep remembering that everything is new to you right now and everything will be new to you for years to come– you will need patience and your own space to learn and explore the vast diversity of the world and to make sense of it all.

We spend time holding you, but we also give you time on your back — on the bed, on the couch, not yet on the floor but eventually — to look around and move your body on your own. Your movements are jittery and random, but they have great meaning and importance to you. You are working on developing yourself, even when you’re moving around in your sleep, trying to become the person you will be. We don’t ever want to forget that, or try to hurry it, or expect anything of you but that. We resist as much as we can the temptation to “pattern-fit” your behavior right now, especially when people ask silly but well-intentioned questions like “How is he sleeping?”, “How is he eating?” etc. The answer is always, just as you are supposed to, whatever that is each day and night, it’s always changing because you’re always changing, getting a little older and a little bit further along your own plan each moment.

There’s so much more I could say, but this is what I want to focus on for now. Raising you is indeed a challenge, but it’s a challenge we chose and it’s a challenge we love (even aside from all the help we’ve gotten so far). We look forward to each day with you!

Other side effects of #pregnancy (running list)

EDIT 3: December 12, 2016 12:32AM

  • Insomnia: I don’t think I have insomnia per se, but there have been many nights when I do not feel tired or feel too excited to sleep. Some of this is probably brought about by my constant need to use the bathroom, which leads to my next point…
  • Constant urge to pee: I am down to my last 3-4 weeks of pregnancy and am now needing to use the toilet around once every hour, depending on how hydrated I am. It is annoying. It also seems like a waste of water and toilet paper because my bladder can hold so little that it almost makes a trip to the bathroom not worth it. However, the pain (and potential damage) of holding it in scares me more than the utility bill and cost of TP.
  • Fetal movement: My baby moves a lot, and it is comforting and exciting, but it is also uncomfortable as the baby is growing larger and running out of room. Sometimes I feel out of breath from its stretches, mostly I feel the skin of my belly stretching, which can be uncomfortable. I can also coax my baby to move by scratching my belly, and I have noticed it moving/jolting when I first step into the shower and the stream of water hits my belly 🙂
  • Acid reflux: Worsening as the baby is growing, probably due to the increase in hormones as pregnancy is progressing. However, this does help curb my attraction to foods I’m not suppose to eat (e.g., processed foods like potato chips) during pregnancy anyway. Sometimes the acid reflux is strong enough to wake and keep me up at night, at which point I’d have to stumble out to the kitchen and make myself the ACV concoction (see below).
  • Sore/tired hips from sitting too long: As my joints are loosening to prep for childbirth, it becomes harder to rise from sitting in a chair for too long. I grunt and groan as I sit down and get up!
  • Fear of crowds: The Lion and I went to the mall the other day despite our distaste for visiting shopping centers during the holiday season, and my immediate instinct was to keep a wide berth from shoppers and children from fear of them bumping into me and my belly. Not sure if this was because I knew holiday shoppers can be merciless or if it was the mothering hormones kicking in.
  • Swollen ankles and feet: These have returned with a vengeance because I wore high heels yesterday and was probably dehydrated as well. Harmless for the most part but unattractive and slightly abnormal.
  • Posture restrictions: I have been trying to lay on my left side [when sleeping] or sit leaning forward in order to coax Baby over to the left side of my belly. Throughout pregnancy, B has enjoyed hanging out with its back to the front-right of my belly, but as we are nearing expected due date, the midwife recommended exercises and these positions to get B into a more ideal positioning for easier delivery. I am looking forward to being relieved of these positions because I miss sleeping on my back, and I miss reclining on the couch!

EDIT 2: September 22, 2016 11:47PM

  • Acid reflux: I had heard from girlfriends that despite not having acid reflux or heartburn ever in life before, they started experiencing it during pregnancy. My acid reflux has been relatively mild, and I wouldn’t consider it “heartburn,” usually just an acidic taste in the back of my throat. But it is annoying and uncomfortable enough to be noticed and sometimes keep me up at night. The nutritionist (who came and gave a talk one Saturday morning) had recommended taking some apple cider vinegar diluted in water, so I started drinking about 6oz of water with a splash of ACV (eyeballed because I was too lazy to get out the measuring spoon and then wash it after use) a little bit before bed. Surprisingly, it didn’t make me get up in the middle of the night to pee, and it did help to ease the acid reflux. Now, I drink that same amount whenever I feel the acid and/or before bed just in case.
  • Hemorrhoids: Prior to being pregnant, I would make dinners that consisted of a salad starter followed by a protein + veggie entree. When I had my decreased appetite a couple months ago, I stopped making the salads because I wasn’t hungry and because I physically felt I couldn’t eat that much (since I was feeling bloated anyway/because I feared acid reflux). The sudden decrease in veggies made my bowel movements much more difficult. I strained every time I had to go, and it was painful and resulted in bleeding. Fearing the descent into anal retentiveness, I began eating a small snack of raw veggies and dip because I remembered how this had eased my constipation earlier in pregnancy. Lo and behold, during the week that I made and ate this snack during the day, my trips to the bathroom were much more pleasant. This week, I ran out of sour cream and forgot to buy more, so I am suffering yet again. This is why it’s important to eat your veggies!!!
  • Bernhardt-Roth syndrome: This is a new one for me that just occurred in the last couple days. We recently relocated to a new house, and I have been on my feet many hours during the last few days watching the movers, unpacking, lining closets and shelves, laundering, washing, etc. etc., and it has taken a toll on my lower extremities. The bottom of my feet were very sore and hurt from standing so much, and yesterday evening, I noticed there was a patch of numb skin on the outer part of my right thigh. I didn’t think much of it, and it eventually faded away at bedtime, but when it resurfaced again this morning, I Googled it and called my midwife. Turns out, it is called meralgia paresthetica (or Bernhardt Roth syndrome), which is a condition that causes numbness, pain, tingly sensations, or burning in the outer thigh. It happens because there is too much pressure on the nerves of your leg. Right now, it feels like a cold burning sensation, like there’s an ice pack on my thigh (but not in a pleasant way…), and I can feel heavy pressure but not light touch. The nurse at my midwife’s office confirmed there has probably been too much pressure on the nerve 🙁 I am trying to perform as much of my duties as I can while sitting, and I’m trying to prop my feet up as much as possible. Of course, the extra weight from the baby doesn’t help. I’m hoping as I adjust to our new place and things get finished up, this unpleasant side effect will dissipate…
  • Swollen ankles (edema): Relatively common side effect but it was still jarring to see it on my own ankles!! I have chubby ankles now, ew.

EDIT 1: August 26, 2016 1:40PM

  • Eczema/skin update: The eczema soap I linked to above has really helped me a lot. Some of it may be psychological, but my belly is finally smooth again and free of sandpaper-y skin. Some of that may be due to the weather finally cooling down too… I love this soap though!
  • Fibroids – This was a scary one for me when I first heard about it. I hadn’t come across this term in any of the books I’d read so far, so it was a shock. Fibroids are noncancerous (99% of the time) tumors that develop in/on the uterus. My four were discovered during my 18 week ultrasound. My midwife reassured me that fibroid development is pretty normal (about 80% of women develop them by age 30) and shouldn’t interfere with the pregnancy/baby as long as it doesn’t grow too large (only in about 20% of cases does it cause complications). Based on my own research on the internet, it seems like the worst fibroids could do to pregnancy/childbirth is block the cervix or prevent the baby from getting into a head-down position, which may mean that I’d need to have a c-section to have the baby. Apparently, until I develop further symptoms (extreme abdominal pain, heavy bleeding), it shouldn’t be a big worry for me.

Original post: August 10, 2016 3:35PM

There’s a lot more involved in pregnancy than just belly and boobs getting bigger, as I’ve learned. This is my list of some of the unexpected symptoms I’ve experienced. Thank goodness for Google!

  • Pregnancy rhinitis – As estrogen and progesterone increases, so does the mucus in your nostrils. This was very noticeable in my first trimester, as I was going through a box of tissues a week. I need tissues for my runny nose constantly, and it was difficult to lay down and breathe comfortably to sleep. I ended up using more support under my pillow to help keep my head elevated at night, but I lost some valuable sleep. Eventually, the rhinitis just dissipated.
  • Sore and tender breasts/nipples – Definitely one of the first things I’d noticed. It was uncomfortable to dress/undress, and I had to take greater care in not accidentally hurting them (especially with sports bras and bralettes!). Again, E&P at work here! They aren’t as sore now during my second trimester, but I still prefer to sleep with a full coverage top or a cotton bralette because…
  • Protruding nipples – This is what makes avoiding them as you take off sports bras difficult and what is annoying about sleeping in a triangle-top nightie
  • Extreme fatigue – I knew that pregnant women needed more sleep, but I wasn’t expecting just how tired I would be! I was napping basically after every meal in addition to going to sleep earlier at night. I was also going to the bathroom throughout the night, which meant I needed daytime naps to fill in the nighttime gaps. I maintained light exercise (daily dog walking, aerial fitness a few times a week), but paced myself on daily chores and errands. Everything took a lot slower to complete…
  • Montgomery tubercles – These little pimple-like bumps on your nipples or areolas are the visual part of the areolar glands (which are glands that secrete oils to help keep your skin moisturized), which help to keep your nipple and areola lubricated and protected.
  • Itchy belly (eczema flare up) – As the pregnant woman’s belly is growing and stretching, the belly skin can dry up and become itchy. Similarly, the change in hormones can affect the severity of dermatitis. My eczema seems to be especially bad this summer, probably a combination of the heat, hormones, and not being able to use my steroid creams. I’ve avoided hot baths and heavy, scented lotions. My friend recently gave me some baby eczema soap, which has helped immensely. The soap is so amazing that sometimes I don’t even need to use lotion! Sometimes, when it gets really bad, I’ll also use a cold compress for 10-15 minutes, which helps a lot too.
  • Decrease in appetite – I’d always heard the phrase, “Eat for two, now that you’re pregnant!” but I just couldn’t! Interestingly enough, I seemed to have a decrease in appetite. Quite the surprise for The Lion because now there’s enough for him to eat until he’s full! 😉
  • Round ligament pain – Quite possibly my most unpleasant symptom right now. There are many thick ligaments that surround and support the uterus, one of them being the round ligament. As the womb grows, the ligaments need to stretch to accommodate the weight, thus causing you to feel some dull, ache-y, cramp-y pain. I notice this pain the most if I shift positions too quickly and also when I stand up from sitting for awhile. The discomfort is persistent, although not debilitating, and will apparently be around until after childbirth!! *cries

Saturday Morning with a Nutritionist (#pregnancy #health #diet #nutrition)

One of the required classes at the birth center is Nutrition 101. Now, readers who are family/friends of ours know that we have some “particular” opinions on what is optimal nutrition! We tend to eat a more traditional diet, and we have been eating this way for about five or six years now. Nutrition (and being more strict about it) has only increased in significance for us as we’ve prepared for conception and pregnancy. I went to this class with pretty low expectations because I’ve heard and read the basic guidelines about what to/not to eat during pregnancy, and they often do not parallel the research I’ve done on optimal nutrition. I was pleasantly surprised!

The nutritionist who came to speak to us introduced her philosophy as primarily “paleo,” and she included references to Weston A Price throughout her talk. She said that she used to be a fitness coach but also suffered pretty severe cases of acne and poor health, despite following all the recommended regimens in the fitness world and experimenting with vegetarianism. Both unfortunately and fortunately, she got into a car accident and needed to see a chiropractor, who introduced to her a different way of eating. He asked for her for a food journal, to which she boasted that she was super healthy, eating microwavable meals, whole grain bagels with low fat cream cheese, Starbucks with coconut milk, etc. She credits him with changing her life because he was the one who showed her that not all fats are bad, but all processed foods are! Oh, bonus, she was a really good and interesting speaker who kept me engaged throughout her two hour talk 🙂

The key points that I thought was interesting and that reinforced my own nutrition principles:

  • Eat organic and locally grown — The chemicals that are used to treat the soil and plants are toxic, avoid as much as possible. Eating local means you’ll likely eat what is in season and optimally nutritious at that time. Eating ripe fruit/veggies versus eating produce that has been picked long before they’re ready, flash-frozen, and transported across the country means less interference and less “processed”! I am very thankful we live in California where fresh, clean produce is valued and available to us!
  • Eat cooked AND raw foods — Eating foods in its natural state helps preserve its nutritious potency! Furthermore, overcooked and burnt foods are actually toxic.
  • 80/20 rule — If you are able to follow a nutrient-dense diet 80% of the time, then it’s okay to indulge once in awhile. It’s not worth it to be stressed about what you eat, and it’s almost impossible to eat 100% clean anyway. The nutritionist did emphasize that even treats should be of high quality. For example, whole-fat, creamy ice cream versus fake, man-made “skinny cow” ice cream bars. I follow more of a 90/10 (or 95/5, on a good week…) rule because… Why not eat cleaner if you can?
  • Eat a variety — Nutrients are everywhere in fruits, veggies, dairy, meats, so to ensure that we get all the good vitamins our bodies need, we need to eat a variety of foods! Additionally, many vitamins and nutrients need each other to be better absorbed by our bodies (e.g., protein, Vitamin C, and zinc all work together to build collagen, helping our skin to bounce back from stretching during pregnancy 😉
  • Water — Drink approximately half your body weight in ounces. Just as how standardized tests are lame, standardized water recommendations are also lame!
  • From dietary habits to lifestyle — As your dietary habits change to be more traditional, optimal, and “primal,” you may find yourself making other lifestyle changes to become more like Grok! 😀

Some other things I learned and found valuable from this Nutrition class:

  • Apple cider vinegar for acid reflux — 2 teaspoons of ACB with 1-2 cups of water to supplement the stomach acid in digestion. I also drink kombucha, which helps a lot too. The nutritionist recommends consuming ahead of time if you know you’re going to have a big indulgent meal.
  • Vitamin C binge before delivery — This helps strengthen veins and can be found in the white parts of citrus fruits.
  • Good sources of sulfuric veggies — …include broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
  • RAW MILK — While she could not loudly proclaim her support for this (I’m assuming for legal/certification reasons…), she mentioned that if a woman is used to drinking raw milk and can find a reputable source, it is absolutely necessary and beneficial to consume for conception and during pregnancy (and for life, I imagine!).

EDIT:

Funny thing I noticed: The nutritionist had brought some snacks for us to munch on during the seminar because it was early in the morning, and I guess she figured pregnant women are always snacking. She brought in a box of Annie’s cheese crackers, a box of Cliff whole grain chocolate chip protein bars, and a container of pre-chopped veggies with a container of ranch dressing. And then later, she used her box of Annie’s crackers as an example of questionable organic choices (I guess not all ingredients in organic Annie’s cheese crackers are organic?), and she recommended against processed, whole grains (aka a box of granola bars…).  The nutritionist seemed have thought a lot of things through… But not everything yet, apparently! 😉

Why I Chose Midwifery Care #midwife #pregnancy #childbirth #homebirth

I am five months pregnant and have not seen a doctor.

The Lion and I enjoy a primal lifestyle. Of course, we also enjoy a lot of what modern technology has to offer (including running water, electricity, and the internet!), but we also appreciate the more primitive aspects of being human, like being outside and getting sun, avoiding processed foods, sweating, sleeping with the sun cycle, and generally being introspective and in-tune with our mental and emotional needs. Along those lines, a birth that is heavily medicated, in an unfamiliar setting, with hospital lighting bearing down and the smell of chemicals and sterility surrounded by strangers watching me pee/poop/fart does not sound like an experience that I would enjoy (I mean, if I’m going to pee/poop/fart with an audience then it might as well be with people I feel relatively more comfortable with, right? :\ )!

My first exposure to midwifery care was through a book called Baby Catcher, recommended to me by a friend who had a homebirth with their son a few years ago in LA. The book is a collection of stories and experiences by the author, Peggy Vincent, a California midwife. Baby Catcher made me laugh out loud and cry, and it really opened my eyes to the possibility of giving birth naturally, at home, with someone you trust, and with as little intervention as needed. Thus, when I became pregnant, I decided to research more about midwifery care and what it entails to determine if it really was the right path for me.

When I saw what the midwifery model of care entailed, I was hooked:

The midwifery model of care is based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life events. The midwifery model of care includes: monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle; providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support; minimizing technological interventions; and identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention. The application of this woman-centered model has been proven to reduce the incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section. —The Midwifery Task Force

The first sentence in the midwifery model of care struck me as unusual because I had never heard or thought of birth and pregnancy as “normal life events,” but indeed, birth is a natural “instinctive act.” Our bodies have evolved through million of years to provide the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies, provided that we understand and care for our bodies the way that nature intended during this normal physiological process. As many of you probably know, women’s hormones are changing drastically during pregnancy, and that’s no different for during childbirth and afterwards too. The brain is producing hormones related to excitement (epinephrine/norepinehprine), love (oxytocin), mothering (prolactin), and pleasure (endorphins) during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth to elicit instinctive mothering behavior in humans. Oxytocin also causes the uterus to contract, adrenaline increases heart rate and makes us feel courageous, giving laboring women the “power” necessary for the final pushes, and endorphins rise and help block the reception of pain.Physically, the laboring mama is driven to move more, and sometimes, even to sing, grunt, groan, moan, or to shower/relax in a bath. Those options are not always available to women who choose to give birth in hospitals (as Vincent recalls in Baby Catcher). Women who are feeling afraid or self-conscious [in front of strangers] tend to secrete hormones that delay birth. In quiet, semidark, private conditions, the laboring mama can let down her guard and let her instincts take over. I knew that working with a midwife was a first step to accomplishing this, where I would be allowed to have the lights lowered, to stay in a comfortable place (my home), to move about freely as needed, and to be with loved and trusted ones as I begin one of the most challenging times of my life.

I also knew that I wanted the individualized care of a midwife (or in the case of the birth center I’m working with, three midwives!), hands-on care, and postpartum support. I am a unique person who has had a unique health history and will have a unique pregnancy and birthing story, so why shouldn’t my care be tailored to me? My most recent experiences with doctors in the dental industry were not pleasant; my dentist told me that nutrition is unrelated to teeth health, that I shouldn’t believe everything on the internet (I read books, not webpages), and did not ask a single question about my dental history. The endodontists I visited seemed impatient with my questions and complimented me on being a “biochemical major” when I asked questions. One of the endodontists I visited had even started pulling out her tools, ready to perform the “routine root canal procedure” the day of my consultation! So, this was certainly not the type of experience and attitude I wanted throughout my pregnancy or at the birth of our first child. When I go to my prenatal appointments, I wait no more than 10 minutes in the waiting room. The staff at the birth center know me by name and face. They know The Lion by name and face. The midwives ask me how I’m feeling, they listen and commiserate, they host picnics and events for everyone to interact (the midwives, the parents, the doulas, the birth assistants, the staff), and they ask for my health and nutrition history. I get the feeling that they are mother- and baby-centric; I trust that when I go into labor, I can call them for help or advice, even if it isn’t during office hours. I trust that I have a choice and won’t be pressured to make a biased one. This is the kind of help and promise that I want and appreciate as a newbie mom. When I interviewed the head midwife of my birth center, I asked her what she expects of her clients. She responded, “I expect them to stay healthy, educated, and relaxed.” This is exactly the kind of pregnancy and childbirth that I want to have!!

As for minimizing technological intervention but also encouraging women who need obstetrical attention to seek it, this is a big point that I think many people have missed of midwifery. When I first told my family that I plan to birth with a midwife, they immediately became concerned of the risks of birthing out of hospital. Luckily, the midwives aren’t above asking for help when they (or the laboring mama) need it! The Lion and I live very close to a hospital, and we have discussed what will happen should I need to be transferred to the hospital. Furthermore, the midwives at my birth center are certified nurse midwives. In other words, they know and can perform the same duties as a doctor, except surgery. I hope to have an “undisturbed birth.” As described above with the hormonal processes, birth is a very complex physiological process, and it is extremely sensitive to outside influences. Many techniques that are used in hospitals to monitor a laboring woman is painful or uncomfortable and usually involve strangers overstepping personal/bodily boundaries. In addition to the distrust of a woman’s birthing ability and their body’s natural processes, these are ingredients for a difficult birth. This is not to say I will have a solitary or isolated birth. I believe that once I am in labor, I will need all the help and support (physical, mental, emotional) I can get to cope with the pain! But a midwife’s method to coping with pain is not to medicate, but rather to understand where the sensation originates from and whether a change of position, attitude, atmosphere in the birth room, or another factor can help mitigate this discomfort.

My main concern with this pregnancy and birth experience is NOT to avoid pain at all costs, but rather to have a healthy baby in the most natural, healthy, accepting way possible. I am so excited to have these midwives be my advocates and guardians during childbirth!!

(I don’t cover the risks of cesarean surgery, epidurals, opiate painkillers, synthetic oxytocin and other synthetic hormones, ultrasounds, early clamping, and inductions here because they require their own blog post and more astute meta-analysis. Buckley’s book (link below) provides a much more in-depth analysis of these and other common interventions of birth. I hope to write a review/summary of her book at a later date.)

Notes – Real Food for Mother and Baby (#FERTILITY, #NUTRITION, #BOOKS, #PREGNANCY, #REVIEW)

Real Food for Mother and Baby

by Nina Planck, published 2016

This was one of the first books I read on fertility/pregnancy because we already had it in our library (see The Lion’s review of it).  Planck’s book dispelled some commonly held beliefs on what pregnant can/cannot consume and further confirmed that the way I eat currently is optimal to maintaining good health. Some interesting/important points I found throughout her book:

  • Exercising during pregnancy is good for mother and baby. Walking, running, swimming, dancing, cycling, rowing, hiking–but never to the point of fatigue. Listen to your body and rest as needed.
  • In the second trimester, the growing baby needs protein and calcium to build bone and muscle, so take cod liver oil, eat protein and saturated fats, and drink milk and eat sour cream and cheeses. Raw is better than pasteurized, and supplements are not as effective. Drink the best milk you can afford.
  • Swelling in the hands and feet is a sign of protein deficiency, so try to eat 100g daily of meat/poultry (skin + bones), fish, eggs, and milk.
  • Salt your food freely (with unrefined sea salt) because blood and amniotic fluid are briny! And eat plenty of fresh produce for potassium
  • Keep up the calcium intake even though the baby’s skeleton has formed by six months because the bones are still bulking up. Eat oysters and beef for zinc, and eat protein (meat, dairy, eggs) to prevent swelling and prematurity. Obviously, drink lots of water and eat tons of fish to aid in baby’s brain development!
  • “Don’t avoid fish, just methylmercury.” No shark, swordfish, King mackerel, or tilefish. Two to three times per week, consume anchovy, common mackerel, salmon, catfish, trout, tilapia (wild caught and fresh) and be generous with the butter and cream (creamy clam chowder for days, yum…).
  • On Birth Day: the atmosphere should be dark, private, and quiet. After birth, hold the baby naked against your skin and ask to delay bathing and weighing. Let the baby look at you, smell you. Newborns aren’t dirty, but if bathing is necessary, do so gently without removing the white stuff (vernix). Try not to cut the cord until the placenta is delivered.
  • The mama’s hormones are working on realigning after birth, so emotions may still be up and down. Continue the diet of red meat, fish, and liver to prevent worsening the baby blues.
  • Get lots of help on practical matters so you can gently surrender to your baby’s needs, unpredictable as they are.
  • Breastfeed [exclusively] if possible (and for as long as possible! At least for 6-12 mos) because breastmilk contains probiotics, antibodies, amylase, and boosts immunity for the newborn. Keep eating well.
  • From four to ten months (once they can sit up), babies can try real food, as long as theres not vomiting or diarrhea. At seven months, the baby can eat seafood, pork and dairy. At one year, time for the baby to start his/her cod liver oil supplements!
  • Let the baby choose what he/she wants to eat, don’t micromanage/point/stare/direct. Do less, RELAX.
  • Surrender your old life temporarily to be the mother that nature intended. Ask for help (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping), and nurse on cue (aka when the baby asks).
  • Watch the baby, not the clock! There is no schedule for breastfeeding.
  • Bread and chocolate (grains and sugar) are inevitable, so try to find ones with good, clean ingredients. Let your child know over time why you favor certain foods over others. Try not to let the child fill up on bread before fats and protein.

TL;DR Avoid trans fats and pesticides. Buy organics and avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, and cheap fried foods.

TL;DR2 Breast feed your baby. Nurse after the baby starts eating. Delay or skip vaccinations. Spend time on farms and outside in the dirt. Touch animals. Drink raw milk.

Hollywood’s version of childbirth #pregnancy

The Lion and I are enjoying watching Scrubs, an American medical comedy-drama TV series, lately. The show is entertaining but also somewhat discouraging, given that it is reportedly the most accurate medical TV show when compared to House, Grey’s Anatomy, and ER (so… McDreamy and McSteamy don’t actually exist?!). As a preggo woman, I found this bit particularly entertaining (and particularly disappointing…)!

The following video is one of the fantasy sequences from Season 2 (text script after the jump):

Randy and Jackie, the parents, are beaming in the background.

Narrator: Congratulations! You’re expecting! Don’t worry — your doctor will tell you everything you need to know.

J.D. steps into camera shot in a lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses.

Narrator: Hi, Doctor!

J.D.: You’ll fart, pee, puke, and poop in front of ten complete strangers who’ll be staring intently at your vagina — which, by the way, has an eighty percent chance of tearing!


It is true that a pregnant woman will likely fart, pee, and poop during childbirth, but it certainly doesn’t have to be in front of ten complete strangers. And the vagina is much more flexible than this short sequence makes it out to be. Oh, and your Dr will definitely not tell you everything you need to know because, well, you’re a woman and not a doctor or scientist and definitely incapable of research and rational thought, and if you really cared about your baby, you’d listen to the experts!

What the video doesn’t tell its audience is that episiotomies (the procedure involving cutting the perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening) are routinely performed and recommended by doctors themselves (they are the ones encouraging intervention and injury!). According to Ina May Gaskin, a Certified Professional Midwife and described as “the mother of midwifery,” most women are well equipped to give birth without the slightest injury, as long as they have the appropriate help, preparation, atmosphere, and consideration. As Gaskin quips in her Guide to Childbirth book, 

Men take it for granted that their sexual organs can greatly increase in size and then become small again without being ruined. If obstetricians (and women) could understand that women’s genitals have similar abilities, episiotomy and laceration rates in North America might go down overnight.

Furthermore, [the perception of] ten complete strangers judging your bodily excretions as you perform a miracle certainly does not constitute the appropriate atmosphere! The techno-medical model of maternity care sees the female body as full of shortcomings and defects, and pregnancy and labor are seen as illnesses which must be treated with drugs, medical equipment, and technological intervention. Doctors and obstetricians commonly believe that birth is only safe in retrospect, and mind and body are considered separate. Because of this belief, emotional ambience and psychological well-being is only important in terms of marketing and not actually comforting to the woman. When I think of hospital births, I imagine a woman laboring in an unfamiliar bed smelling like bleach or other cleaning chemicals in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable gown, hooked up to electronic fetal monitors, intravenous tubes, and other pressure- or heart-rate reading devices, devices that the average woman does not know how to operate (and wouldn’t be allowed to operate anyway, as a patient). During labor, the woman is restricted from eating, moving, or drinking, and since labor pain is unacceptable and indicative of weakness, analgesia and anesthesia are encouraged. The woman is a passive object, she is the barrier to the baby’s birth, and there is no room for individual variation. Her decision-making ability is seen as part of her shortcomings, and she must defer to the doctor/obstetrician “if she truly cares about her baby.”

Since the aforementioned is the common belief of hospital staff and obstetricians, then yes, I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in this video–childbirth is indeed scary and unpleasant!

Of course, now that I know these things, my birth plan will be a little different… I will attempt to briefly explain the advantages that midwifery care has in a separate, later post 🙂

 

Video – The Truth About Breastfeeding (#infancy, #health, #parenting)

We plan to breastfeed our infant. This video provides a lot of information about the benefits of breastfeeding. It doesn’t discuss any “risks”, although I am not sure that is a meaningful concept when analyzing an evolutionary biology-based parenting practice. Below the video is a summary of some of the key points if you do not wish to watch the video:

  • The benefits of breastfeeding imply exclusive use, ie, no supplementation with bottle feeding, formula or solid foods
  • Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants; it also allows the mother to pass her antibodies to the baby to improve its immunity to disease
  • The skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding creates hormonal release that leads to bonding
  • Breastfeeding is connected to improved brain development in infants (compared to non-breastfeeding), especially with regards to language development, emotional function and cognition
  • The hormonal release also assists with post-partum healing of the mother’s body and delays the return of ovulation during breastfeeding, preserving the mother’s stores of iron and creating “natural” spacing between pregnancies
  • Childbearing and breastfeeding have shown significant decreases in a woman’s risk of developing different forms of cancer in clinical studies