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Postpartum Differences From One Pregnancy to the Next: Like Snowflakes, In a Way

Apr06

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A comment from my very first posting here has stuck with me every since I read it:

From the variety of experiences posted, take away that YOUR experience is normal, because everything is normal. The emotions, the physical difficulties, the whole shebang.

Yes! That! This! Exactly.

I have to admit to a teensy bit of writer’s block when it comes to this column. On the one hand, I have a MONSTER list of topic ideas. A crazy, ridiculous list of various indignities and concerns and stuff I lifted from my hospital’s new baby brochure. But every week I scan the list and try to pick one or two things to write about and start second guessing about how useful that particular topic would be, because my experience is not yours or yours or yours, and there really isn’t any definitive law of the postpartum land. It’s all so confoundingly different, where do I even START?

Well, I guess I have to start with…me. And to really drive home the idea that EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT, I shall detail the crazy differences I noticed between my OWN postpartum experiences with just my own two measly little babies.

LABOR: I had an emergency c-section after 10 or 12 hours of labor with Noah (I honestly don’t remember how long I labored for — my husband figured out that I was in active labor before I did). It hurt. But I don’t think it hurt as much as it hurts for some women. I clenched my teeth a lot and moaned and bit my pillow but I never screamed or cursed or thrashed around. It was mostly…TIRING, especially since I labored overnight, going a good 24 hours without sleep. Even though I’d planned on getting an epidural and assumed I’d want it RIGHT EFFING AWAY, I made it to transition (8 or 9 centimeters) without anything. I finally asked for the epidural out of exhaustion, not because I couldn’t handle the pain. I was just too tired to even think about pushing out a 9 pound, 15 ounce occiput posterior baby without a nap. So I got the epidural and took a nap. I woke up, pushed for awhile, and then blah blah fetal distress emergency c-section.

I skipped all of that drama with Ezra, opting for a scheduled c-section instead. Contrary to what every. single. person. in the world told me, I vastly preferred my first birth experience. Probably because I WAS expecting the second time to be “better” in all sorts of ways. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t worse, no! It was just…different. It was kind of dull and clinical and strange and I guess I’m kind of a crazy person, but I wish I could have experienced labor one more time.


THE EPIDURAL SHAKES
: Minutes after Noah was born I started shaking uncontrollably. I freaked out, assuming something terrible was happening. I tried to tell someone — anyone — about it but couldn’t get their attention. Finally my husband noticed and deciphered what I was saying through chattering teeth and asked the nurse about it. Normal, she assured us. It’s the epidural. Over the next day or so the epidural was also blamed for my itchy skin and constantly feeling cold.

I didn’t shake after the medicine was turned off with Ezra, but I did have the constant itchy sensation (particularly on my belly) for a good 36 hours afterward. And also…

C-SECTION PAIN. You’ve probably gotten the gist of this already, but once more, with feeling. WAY more pain with Ezra than Noah. Despite the labor and emergency c-section, I felt GREAT after Noah. DANDY. My recovery was a freaking breeze in the park.With Ezra, I actually felt like I’d had major abdominal surgery. IMAGINE THAT.


POSTPARTUM POOP
. No matter what flavor of childbirth you have, your first bowel movement is scary. There’s just a little too much going on down there, already. You’ll likely be offered stool softeners throughout your entire hospital stay. Take them. Love them. After a c-section, your digestive tract kind of goes on hiatus, meaning you’ll be constipated AND really gassy (but it’ll be awhile before you actually start passing gas, which is LOVELY, since the nurses will quiz about it and withhold food trays until it happens and this time I rang for the nurse at 4 am just to announce the important gas-related development just to ensure that I would most definitely get some damn breakfast).
With Noah, my first postpartum poop essentially cured me of any sadness over the loss of a vaginal birth, because OH MY GOD. With Ezra, it was easy and downright normal. Better stool softeners? Different diet? Possibly because I resumed my raging coffee habit immediately postpartum?

POSTPARTUM BOOBS. I never got engorged my first time around. Never leaked, never had a strong let-down reflex, never had much milk to speak of, despite my best efforts. This time was RIDICULOUS. Rock-hard silicone-like D-cup melons on my chest, painful to the touch, veiny, horrifying (especially to an A-cupper like me). Anytime I thought about Ezra my boobs would tingle and burn and fill up with milk. Like, every 20 minutes, regardless of whether he was even around. Couple this with the sound of a faucet turning on and whoosh, I’d leak milk all over the place. If Ezra slept a mere 15 minutes longer than usual I’d wake up in a pool of milk or pain from rolling over onto an engorged boob. He’d latch on and choke and gag because there was just too much, too fast. It took a good two months for my supply to regulate, and by three months Ezra was finally able to keep up with my more-than-ample supply and keep me comfortable. (I’m totally fine now, back to a B-cup with no need for a nursing bra at night, despite him sleeping for long stretches.)

POSTPARTUM EMOTIONS: With Noah, I was very calm and collected…when it came to HIM. He cried or seemed sick or needed something, I could deal with it. I couldn’t deal with anything else, and would have crying jags over how I looked or how my friends weren’t visiting or because we were out of Girl Scout cookies. With Ezra, I think I cried exactly once because I was sick with an ear infection that I couldn’t seem to shake. And while I once again rose to Happy Capable Superwoman levels when it came to caring for Ezra, I had less than ZERO PATIENCE for Noah. I could NOT deal with him. I wanted him to go AWAY. I sent him out with my in-laws constantly because his presence, his neediness, his whining, and my inability to multi-task between two babies drove me crazy. Then Noah behaved even worse because he didn’t understand why Mommy was ignoring him! Then I felt really guilty! Hooray!

POSTPARTUM WEIGHT: I gained 33 pounds with Noah and lost it all by my six-week checkup. I gained 25 with Ezra and lost it all by…um. Well, 2010 is looking good, I hope.

In summary (oh hi, fifth grade essay writing assignment!), I have learned to mostly shut the hell up when it comes to being an expert on this childbirthing business. It’s crazy different from one pregnancy to the next. While I originally conceived this column as a guide full of wisdom and advice, I’m now looking more to commiserate with everybody, to hopefully (between the entries and the comments) have every conceivable postpartum symptom and experience documented in some way, so some poor woman out there can read that she’s not the only one who became incontinent afterward or mistook a hemorrhoid for poop or had to open her gown for a nurse to ask her what the HELL that WHITE THING is on her NIPPLE, OH MY GOD.*

*It’s a blister!

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.

Amazon Mom

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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23 Responses to “Postpartum Differences From One Pregnancy to the Next: Like Snowflakes, In a Way”

  1. bethysmalls Apr 07 at 10:46 am Reply Reply

    “With Noah, my first postpartum poop essentially cured me of any sadness over the loss of a vaginal birth, because OH MY GOD.”
    I said almost the exact same thing. I’d elaborate but all one can really say is, “OH MY GOD.”

  2. jodifur Apr 07 at 10:59 am Reply Reply

    If I was as thin as you, I’d eat more.
    The end.

  3. Michelle Apr 07 at 11:37 am Reply Reply

    How right you are! I gave birth to my third daughter via repeat c-section but I went into labor two days before my scheduled c-section and I feel like everything happened so fast and before I was ready that I didn’t get to take it all in the way I would have if everything had just gone according to plan. Can you tell I have a little bit of a control issue?! But I still look back at the experience with a twinge of sadness because it was the last time I will ever go through that again and it all just happened too fast and I wasn’t ready.

  4. LilliMa Apr 07 at 12:41 pm Reply Reply

    One other thing I just remembered about the milk coming in — I had no idea what “let down” was supposed to feel like, and for two weeks (until I saw her pediatrician) I was convinced the burning, prickly feeling I was getting each time I nursed was thrush; I peered worriedly into her mouth to monitor the “thrush” on her tongue (just a coating of milk protein) and bored my husband silly talking about whether or not it was, and omg, and what do I do. Sigh.
    Anyhoo, now I know why moms are so generous with their experiences and advice — because, dang, I figured all this stuff out just in time to never use it again! This column is creating a much-needed resource (and place to laugh about it all). Thank you.

  5. Amy Apr 07 at 2:48 pm Reply Reply

    Amy – this column is a lifesaver no matter what the content as it just makes me feel better to have somewhere to commiserate. I am 3 weeks postpartum with my second. My first is 3 1/2 and I had an unexpected C-section with this one and am still recovering in so many ways. I had untreated PPD with my daughter and now am totally paranoid about how I’m feeling this time around. So hearing what’s “normal” for a variety of people is truly helpful!

  6. lisa Apr 07 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

    I am loving this column! Keep it coming. My first baby is 3 weeks old and i am hoping and praying my boobs get smaller SOON. When did that happen for you?

  7. Laura Apr 07 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    I’m just a little curious and thought someone might help me out. For a girl who is ALREADY quite…well…blessed in the boob department (32G), how much bigger can they get? And if they do get bigger, where can I find a nursing bra in my size? Certainly not Target…any ideas????
    _____________________
    Editor: Laura, try these past articles that Amalah has written. Please read the very helpful comments as well. :)
    http://www.alphamom.com/smackdown/2008/12/how_to_buy_nursing_bras_before.php
    http://www.alphamom.com/smackdown/2008/06/when_should_i_buy_nursing_and.php

  8. Trish Apr 07 at 5:14 pm Reply Reply

    “I never got engorged my first time around.”
    Thank goodness, it’s not just me. I kept waiting for my milk to come in, and it never did. Just reading that sometimes it happens is reassuring.

  9. Kimba Apr 07 at 6:46 pm Reply Reply

    Still waiting for my boobs to get smaller. Like you, I have had more than enough milk (is there any sort of donating service? Cause seriously, I could have probably fed all of Africa). Now, at 4.5 months postpartum, I think my supply is regulating. Finally.
    For me, the shakes started before I even got to the hospital, but it may have been because I was already at a 6. It scared the living daylights out of my husband, but I hear the shakes is normal for labor. (“Normal”…) I shook from the moment my first contraction started, to about an hour or so after I had my baby (4ish hours later).
    My question, Amalah, is sex. More along the lines of, will I ever want it again? Cause it just ain’t happenin’…

  10. Elizabeth_k Apr 07 at 7:28 pm Reply Reply

    Amalah: This column is AWESOME! I love the columns and the comments, and have sent the link to several of my pregnant friends, even the ones who, like me, have already had one baby. That the experiences can be so different, with the same woman, is so helpful and informative. Hello fifth grade response, but, really: Great. Thanks.

  11. Becca Apr 08 at 2:23 am Reply Reply

    I had the exact same experiences…..emergency C section (although I never went into labor….they were unable to induce me, nothing worked!) and then a scheduled Csection for my second daughter.
    Shakes: HORRIBLE. I was told it was the morphine. I felt cold but only from my boobs up because the rest of me was numb.
    Let Down: Forget about it. Even at 9 months I would let down if I heard a baby cry…argh! I still get phantom sensations, sometimes, upon hearing a child cry that sounds somewhat like mine did (stopped breastfeeding more than two years ago!)
    Nurses Holding Food for Hostage (waiting for poop or gas??) Forget about it….that is what husbands are for. I sent my husband out to get cheeseburgers when my hospial staff tried to withhold food (I had a baby to breastfeed, y’all!)
    Pain: I took advantage of painkillers so I would up and walking around ASAP. I was hitting my page button as soon as the 24 hour mark passed…I wanted to be disconnected so I could go for a stroll.
    **I love your stories, honesty and perspective. Keep them coming!

  12. Kirstie Apr 08 at 10:09 am Reply Reply

    I have a question that might sound a little silly, especially since I’m not even looking to have kids yet (let’s get engaged first, shall we? lol!). And it might be a little too much info ..
    What I wanted to ask about was the post-birth bleeding. I know with a vaginal birth women tend to bleed for weeks on end, but is it the same with a c-section? Do you bleed the same way, or just from the incision? I know this probably sounds crazy to be asking, but I’m curious … I’ve got a bleeding disorder, and I’m one of those people who plays the worst case scenario game way in advance, lol .. and since you ladies who frequent these posts are so nice I thought you’d be the best to ask.

  13. hydrogeek Apr 08 at 10:32 am Reply Reply

    For whomever asked about huge nursing bras? JC Penney’s, in the maternity section. Decently affordable, too. As for when the boobs finally get smaller, my data point is that the HUGE engorgement went away after several weeks, but the extra size or two (depending on how long since the last feeding) stayed until I quit nursing. And then my nipples sagged. Like, sagged ON TOP OF the saggy boobs. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Thanks Amalah and alphamom for providing this space!

  14. Catherine S Apr 08 at 3:37 pm Reply Reply

    To Kirstie, yes you do have the vaginal bleeding (called lochia) even after a C-Section. I personally didn’t have any bleeding fromm my incision after, just the usual post birth vaginal stuff. I have heard stories from other women that their bleeding lasted anywhere from 1 week to 2 months. Mine lasted about 3 weeks…

  15. Anonymous Apr 09 at 7:33 pm Reply Reply

    For Kimba – yes you can donate breastmilk! See http://www.breastmilkproject.org
    I learned of it just as my milk was drying up, so I haven’t done it. But it’s Oprah-approved!

  16. gizella Apr 09 at 10:41 pm Reply Reply

    the poop: i was in the hospital for my c-section for four days, and had not pooped. I would not be released until I did, totally normal, and the kind nurses were giving me warm prune juice round the clock (gnarly, just disgusting), and stool softeners to absolutely no avail. I was having problems breastfeeding, because my little girl was not latching and sluggish (drugs from the csection). She figured it out on that 4th day, and started crying vigorously for milk. I had scheduled a visit from the lactation consultant, and she came on that morning of my departure, which is when all that warm prune juice kicked in, along with the stool softeners, and I got really nervous. She showed me one position, and i told her she’d have to leave like NOW, because I had to use the bathroom. She stood there, the baby was wailing, and I got to shouting leave,leave leave, and i wheeled the poor kid into the bathroom with me, her in her bassinet, the lady still looking at me, and i said “i am going to sit down and shit, please get the fuck out of my room now”. Good times!

  17. KimB Apr 10 at 8:56 am Reply Reply

    I’ve had two pregnancies — both boys, both vaginal deliveries with epidural, both quick (approx. 6 hours from entering the hospital to holding a beautiful baby)but different post partum experiences. The first time, major epidural shakes but the second time nothing. The first one, engorged breasts and I kid you not the lactation consultant measured me for an “H” nursing bra (I was normally a “C” cup). The second one, no engorgement but leaking problems. Now when some one asks me what to expect, I preface my answer with more disclaimers than a weight loss infomercial — this was only my experience and yours will be uniquely yours. Which is actually cool in a way.

  18. LauraP Apr 10 at 9:04 pm Reply Reply

    One of my favorite thing immediately after delivering, was the warm blanket that was placed on me and the baby. Granted, I gave birth at a Midwife Center, so I am not sure if this is unique to that. So if you are giving birth in a hospital and this isn’t offered, I wonder if there is logistically any way that it could happen. It made a big difference, especially for everyone that says they got nasty chills.
    Also when my milk came in, I wore some of my husbands old shirts. I didn’t even bother wearing a nursing bra when I slept just because of how engorged I was. It was much more comfortable. Once my milk came in though, I called myself one big milk stain. Granted I got milk on my sheets, etc but I just put a towel directly under the fitted sheet so that it wouldn’t stain the mattress pad or the mattress.

  19. Leah Apr 10 at 9:49 pm Reply Reply

    The epidural itchies! GAH. I wish someone had told me about that because, on the one hand, I was SUPER comfortable considering I was in labor for 26 hours, but also super UNcomfortable because the epidural made me want to peel off my skin and go rub against a tree for relief.

  20. mamatank Apr 10 at 10:38 pm Reply Reply

    just wanted to say THANK YOU for this column. i always enjoyed zero to forty while i was pregnant (i only made it to 37 though!) and now, a little over 2 weeks postpartum i am REALLY glad for this. and perfect timing too! my son was born on march 24 :)
    oh and by the way, omg postpartum boobs! i know exactly what you mean. GIGANTIC! and so leaky… my baby can’t keep up with these monsters!

  21. amy Apr 11 at 11:47 am Reply Reply

    12 days postpartum here. I did a bunch of reading (blogs, boards, books) and thought I was well-prepared for postpartum reality. Except: CLIT PAIN WTF. Never did I see any mention that in addition to the expected vagina and nipple issues I might have extra-special pain in an extra-special place, which DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS. (For anyone reading this who might thus be forewarned – I think I started to notice it somewhere around day 8, so, not part of the initial general swelling/soreness of everything down there. I feel it right in my clitoris and somewhat down one side of my vulva, and it feels sort of like a cross between chafing and cramping. It’s worse at night, when I stand up, and on the toilet, so my theory is that it has something to do with circulation and how much pressure there is on my crotch from sitting, wearing pants, etc. It’s sometimes bad enough when I stand up from having been sitting for a long time to make me double over and cry a little, although some of that is that I just find it much harder to deal with than nipple pain/cramps/etc… I just find it really scary/threatening to have pain like that in such a sensitive and sexually central place, and in the absence of any obvious damage/injury, who knows how long it’s going to last??)

  22. Maggie Apr 12 at 7:52 pm Reply Reply

    I am almost one week postpartum, and I just want to say thank you! Reading this has been the best I’ve felt all week — being able to laugh (instead of just cry!) has been great. I’m a total and complete mess, and really didn’t expect this as my first pregnancy I bounced back like nobody’s business. Both natural deliveries, home after one night in hospital, but totally not coping emotionally this time. I feel so guilty over my toddler, I feel sore and tired physically, the baby has only two modes: cry and eat and I haven’t slept more than 1 hour in a row for a whole week now. Just knowing that other women feel this way too makes a world of difference to me. Please keep it up!

  23. Teresa Feb 07 at 10:55 am Reply Reply

    I am one week postpartum and producing very little milk for the baby. In addition, my milk seems to come-out real slow, too slow for the baby’s appetite. We could spend 2 hours trying to satisfy his appetite if I just breastfed him. I ended-up supplementing with formula and pumping what I can to feed him with a bottle. Is there hope that my body will produce more milk?
    ___________
    Editor: yes, you don’t establish your full milk supply until 4-6 weeks postpartum. Keep breastfeeding and pumping.

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