It’s been just over two weeks since her birth. Two weeks of her curious existence in this world, two weeks of laying awake because all I want to do is watch her, two weeks of checking the rise and fall of her chest at my side, two weeks of observing her newborn features flesh out, two weeks of the incremental changes that take her farther and farther away from the literal and figurative umbilicus that tethers her to me. She is all soft skin and milky smell, but also boyfriends and college and marriage and her first child and turning forty and caring for me in my old age, God willing.
By day two, I was having some serious breastfeeding challenges. Her latch was poor and abnormally painful; it felt like my nipples were being sawed off. I was miserable and cried through some of her feedings. Sore is normal, sharp pain is not normal. It turned out that she had both a “tongue tie” and a “lip tie,” bits of taut frenula that kept her tongue from flaring out and down and her upper lip from flaring up. Basically, she was clamping down on me with her bony little gums. Her first outing into the world was to see a pediatric dentist to have those surgically released. I got a prescription for a breast pump from her pediatrician, which is covered by my insurance, and that helped me stave off feedings so that I could heal a bit. The experience was awful, but now knowing how painful it can be, and how confusing, will make me a better doula.
My milk came in on day three. I had a classic postpartum moment, standing in the bathroom with milk dripping out of my unthinkably large, hard breasts, weeping. What had I done?
But she made it easy to weather; I’d do it again if I had to. I’d walk through fire for her.
On day four I had a lactation consultant come for a home visit to teach me about latching and how to use the pump. Here I am, a doula, having learned about breastfeeding and having read up in preparation and still, still, I had no idea what I was doing. Breastfeeding and latching is not obvious to most, it really needs to be learned. Years ago we learned these skills from other women around us. I learned it from my midwife and my LC. The LC’s visit is also covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act; if your insurance company tries to deny you coverage, there is a hotline you can call to get the information you need to ensure that they comply with federal regulations. Mine is refusing coverage because I didn’t see a hospital LC. I hate spending afternoons on the phone, I hope it goes smoothly.
I’d been getting a surprising amount of sleep but the last two nights have been tiring. She sleeps most of the time and rarely cries, but again, today felt different. She’s more aware and awake, both good but also ominous for our nights ahead. She breastfeeds every 2-3 hours, sometimes less, and I need to feed her that often because my breasts are engorged. Her diapers need to be changed, she’s uncomfortable when gassy, and sometimes needs to be soothed in order to fall back to sleep. She sleeps next to me in the bed, and so whenever she stirs I snap awake.
The physical recovery leaves me impatient. I want to heal now. I’m restless. Though I’m getting more sleep than the average mother, I’m still tired much of the time and still sore. I’ve needed support, physical and emotional. I planned for this, but still it surprises me how little I can accomplish in my day (though feeding a child from my own body is a pretty amazing thing, really). This is something I’ll incorporate more into my childbirth education to pregnant mothers. Mamas, you need support. Seriously, come up with a plan. Who will feed you? Who will nurture you? You will need to be nurtured. You want people who make you feel good and cared for, whether that’s family or friends or a postpartum doula (or better yet, all of the above). You want people to drop off meals or groceries and not stay too long, people who don’t need to be entertained and around whom you can be messy and in your pajamas. I’ve been drippy and frumpy, so, maybe friends around whom you can let it all hang out. Or, friends who can hang out and keep you company and gaze with you while you drip and frump.
My healing arsenal: bodywork (my mother-in-law is a massage therapist, and has been here since day three), ibuprofen, homeopathic remedies, a flower essence mix, valerian tincture for sleep, chocolate, gifts from friends (I’ve enjoyed receiving care packages and opening them when I feel really crappy) and just lots of good food and rest. Support from my husband. Having him take the baby when I need a break, or getting up to change her diaper early in the morning after I’ve fed her and just need to pass out. Corresponding with friends while she breastfeeds. Feeling connected, even if I’m stuck here.
This is the new normal. When family leaves at the end of the month, it will be the new new normal. No grandmothers prepping my meals or working out my knots. Husband back at work. Waking up and discovering myself alone in my apartment with a baby. Perhaps by then I’ll have my “baby legs,” and perhaps not. I know that I’m grateful in advance for all the friends who have offered to help out, and whom I’ll be calling upon September 1.