Postpartum Differences From One Pregnancy to the Next: Like Snowflakes, In a Way
A comment from my very first posting here has stuck with me ever 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 first two measly little babies.
I had an emergency c-section after 10 or 12 hours of labor with my first, 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 my second, 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…
You’ve probably gotten the gist of this already, but once more, with feeling: I had WAY more pain with my second, Ezra, than with 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.
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?
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.)
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!
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 child birthing business. It’s crazy different from one pregnancy to the next.
While I originally conceived this postpartum 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!Published April 6, 2009. Last updated January 14, 2018.