The Nine-Month Journey: Physical Recovery

Everyone kept asking how I was feeling, how I was doing. I mean, that’s natural. Especially for the midwives and all that… they kind of need to know. But considering how uncomfortable the last two weeks of pregnancy were and how horrific the actual birth was, I felt like I was floating on air! I mean, a little vaginal discomfort is nothing compared to how many aches and pains and discomforts I had before birth. I had to keep reminding myself that I was healing a rather large inner wound, even if I couldn’t feel it. Of course, when I tried to shower or spend five minutes in the kitchen getting food and then felt exhausted, I was quickly reminded.

Staying down is hard. I mean, it was hard before I gave birth, even though getting out of bed was a five-minute ordeal. I worked around 60 hours the week before I went into labor, including a full shift the day before. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason my body finally allowed itself to go into labor was because that was the first day I had taken off of work in a few weeks. I wasn’t going to let a big belly and some back pain stop me from being active!

In October, I felt way better than I did in my 38-40th weeks of pregnancy, so reminding myself that there was a wounded uterus inside me desperately trying to heal was not always easy. I was ready to be back at work, continuing with life, you know? I had promised myself I would stay in bed for two weeks straight afterward… Well, after one week, I had already been up and about a fairly good amount. What can I say? If I truly didn’t feel good, I would have laid down.

In fact, it was right at the two-weeks post-partum mark that I went back to work. I was able to ease back into it, thanks to some very understanding and accommodating managers, working one four-hour shift just to see how I would feel afterward. I felt fine and promptly asked for more shifts. A week later, I was back on a full work schedule.

I have to admit though – a lot of the ease I experienced in recovery was due to the lack of newborn baby in my apartment. When you are waking up every two hours to nurse, changing diapers, attending doctor appointments, etc. of course you are going to be exhausted! I, on the other hand, had the luxury of sleeping for almost two days straight immediately following birth. That alone did wonders in facilitating a speedy recovery.

I was also delightfully lacking in stitches anywhere on my body, which made sitting much less of a problem. There were a lot of things my midwives warned me about – like being terrified to poop because it feels like your uterus will fall out of your body – that simply didn’t happen for me. Basically, there was blood, there was exhaustion, and there was a little discomfort. And then there wasn’t.

One thing I appreciated was my own lack of interest in retrieving a flat stomach. Immediately after birth, my deflated belly felt like a ball of bread dough that had just finished rising, and I quite enjoyed the soft squishiness. No matter how uncomfortable I had been and how much the belly annoyed me during pregnancy, I have to admit I was very used to it. The lack of a giant tummy is odd in the first few weeks post-partum. There was nothing to set my cup of tea on when I was lying in bed. The soap bubbles from my bath scrubby went straight to the tub floor instead of running over my belly button. Oh, and I’m pretty sure my belly button has permanently altered shape…

I was mostly concerned about drying up my milk supply. Although I had initially hoped to pump for the first few months since I would still be in Oklahoma and could get the milk to my daughter, the reality of doing so while working two jobs was an unlikely one. The adoptive parents were able to find a milk donor through my midwives, so I decided to return to my pre-pregnancy bra size (or, let’s face it – even smaller).

It ended up being pretty easy though. One of the midwives’ assistants was a lactation specialist, so she brought me all the supplies I would need: cabbage leaves (which we broke up and put in the freezer), sage tincture (she also suggested sage tea, but I never got around to getting any), coconut oil, peppermint oil, and ibuprofen. My milk came in after about three days. I drank the sage tincture three or four times a day, put coconut oil and then peppermint oil on my breasts, took ibuprofen every four hours or so, and applied the frozen cabbage leaves both the day before milk arrived and the day of. My breasts never hurt that badly (unless you poked them or squished them), but they did get very big and very hard. By the ninth day post-delivery, they seemed to be almost entirely back to normal, with just a little residual milk leaking out if they were squeezed (which kept happening for another two months).

The worst part of the process was the cabbage. I had both purple and white, and I would change colors in the evening. I smelled like borscht all day and Chinese take-out all night. Who knew that boiling cabbage on your breasts would result in so extremely potent and long-lasting a smell?

Besides all the drying-up treatments, I was also taking calcium, magnesium, and fish oil. My midwives had called them the “golden trio,” and said they did wonders for returning hormones to natural levels and keeping your mood even. I guess they worked, because I was a lot less emotional following my birth than I had expected to be. I also had made and frozen a large batch of bone broth a couple weeks before my due date, thanks to the advice of my stepmother. Although the idea of drinking meat soup initially seemed rather unpleasant, I was so grateful to have this during the first week of post-partum. I warmed it up and drank it from a mug several times a day until I ran out, and it was always very comforting and filling (except the numerous times it burned the living daylights out of my tongue).

There’s a lot of information out there on exactly how you should handle birth recovery. Everyone seems to have similar and yet highly varied opinions of what you should do, how long you should do it, and why. In the end though, just like your pregnancy, your recovery is going to be very specific to you. If you want to stay in bed for a full month, then do it! If you want to start working out after one week, then (very carefully) do it! Find the things that are going to make you feel good both physically and emotionally, whether that is sleep, activity, bone broth, or ice cream. In a time that puts so much focus on the new baby, remember to focus a little on yourself too.


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