The Postpartum Body

I started working on this post when I was home with Frances, and it’s been sitting in my drafts for a while. I have my first post-baby-having well woman visit next week, and that has got me thinking once again about all things postpartum.

Bodies are such strange things and we (most of us anyway) have such complicated relationships with them. My body is not the same as it was before I had a baby, and mostly I’m okay with that, but sometimes I’m really not. I do feel stronger than I did before and like I have more endurance (this is not so much from birthing a child as from lugging her around for 13+ months), but, if we are being honest here, my stomach muscles are all stretched out from pregnancy and I don’t like that (although I don’t apparently dislike it enough to do something about it).

Anyway, here are a few observations from me on what happened once I stopped gestating a small human.

Cramps – You will have them in the week after giving birth, especially when the baby nurses, as your uterus contracts back down to its usual size. For me they were like the worst period cramps ever, which wasn’t very fun on top of the c-section pain. But at least it didn’t last TOO long.

Night Sweats – You body retains lots of extra fluids when you are pregnant and once you aren’t, it has got to get rid of all of it. My midwife warned me that I would probably have night sweats, and I’m glad she did, because I had them for weeks. I was glad to get rid of the fluid though, and finally get my normal, unswollen feet back.

Hair Loss – When you are pregnant, hormones keep your hair from falling out like it normally would, but once those hormones levels drop back to normal after the baby is born, all that hair that didn’t fall out for the last 9+ months has to go somewhere. For me the hair loss started at around 3 months and went on for a good 3 months. Sometimes I wondered how I even had hair left on my head (although you couldn’t really tell I was losing that much hair).

Bleeding – For me, one of the imagined benefits of pregnancy was getting to skip having a period for a long stretch of time. Yeah, instead it was like I had all the periods I had skipped while pregnant in a row. Most women bleed for 2-6 weeks after having a baby. I bled for 5 and half weeks. I feel annoyed just writing that now. And at the beginning there were clots. In the hospital I had a clot the size of a clementine. I got so freaked out I called the nurse and made her come look at my clot. AND  my period came back while I was weaning Frances. So not only was I still pumping away, I also had my period. It was decidedly not awesome. Boo, bleeding!

Mental Health – When I was home with Frances, I would have told you I was fine, but looking back now, I see how I wasn’t totally myself. I was tired, of course, but also anxious and worried and weighed down. Some days, it got overwhelming. There was a day, at the end of a week of nap strikes and overnight wake-ups, where I found myself sobbing on the floor after some conversation with Jami (about what now, I don’t know exactly). I called my midwives, and can I tell you.. they were awesome. They called back, they were genuinely concerned, they cared about me (this may sound obvious, but when you have a newborn there is a whole lot of caring about BABY and not a whole lot about you, especially in a stand-alone, you are person with needs, role). My midwife suggested sleep (don’t attempt to get things done when the baby is sleeping she said, just sleep. Any chance you can.) and sympathized (man, that sympathy went a long way). She described motherhood as relentless, which is the best description I’ve found, especially of those first few months. Even now, if it’s a rough day, I think… “relentless” and it makes me feel better and I forgive myself a little for not being perfect. For just muddling through. So this is just to say that fluctuating hormones and sleep deprivation are a powerful mix, and they can definitely make you feel blue.

Weight/Body Image – I worry that any discussion of weight will seem like “this is how it should be”, and I don’t want that to be the case, so this is all I’ll say about that: I gained weight while I was pregnant. It was a “healthy” amount, but I think that the amount that is “healthy” or “normal” is a wider range than the medical establishment generally allows for. I lost the weight slowly while at home without really doing much. And then gained about a third of it back when I returned to work and started eating junkier food. I’m pretty fine with my weight. I am less fine (as I mentioned above) with my stretched out stomach, but it what it is. Mostly I try to love my body for doing pretty much anything I want to do. That’s the level of fitness I am going for in life – to the extent that I can control it, I want to be in good enough shape to do whatever I want to do. I have read two things in the last year that I really liked that touch on Motherhood and body image, and I recommend them to everyone: Mom Stays in the Picture and I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.

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The Postpartum Body

January Round-up

I read 11 (!) books in January, 7 non-fiction and 4 fiction. 7 were on my Kindle, and 4 were in print, including 2 from my “Read It or Lose It” list!

Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered on my Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli. I have been interested in Bhutan, since I read about it in Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, so I was interested to see what Napoli had to say about her time there. She went to help Bhutan’s fledgling radio station, and her view of Bhutan was very interesting, but I think I especially enjoyed her musings on being middle-aged and single. I feel like there isn’t a lot out there about that particular life experience, even though it is pretty common. If you are interested in Bhutan, or in honest depictions of single life, pick this up, but otherwise, it’s skippable.

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky. I am slowly working my way through everything Kurlansky has written (my favorite so far is The Basque History of the World, but they are all interesting). I like the way he looks at history through a particular lens (in this case, the history of New York City as seen through the lens of oysters). Really interesting.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish family, and became a chef as a young man, eventually landing in New York City, so you can imagine that he has a pretty interesting life story to tell – and he tells it well. Definitely worth picking up.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) by Mei-Ling Hopgood. Hopgood looks at what a bunch of other cultures can teach us about parenting in this book – from Argentina (where Hopgood, an American, lives) where the kids stay up LATE (no thanks!) to China where the kids potty train early (requires a healthy tolerance for pee and poop on the floor) to a pygmy tribe where fathers handle almost half of all child care (although Hopgood still refers to the parenting done by fathers as “babysitting”, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. It’s not “babysitting” if they are your kid!). It’s neat to see how other cultures handle different things, and it helps me to feel like there is no one *right* way to do things. Instead you are free to figure out what works best for you.

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang. I requested this book from the LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, because I like a good food memoir, but this was so much more than that. Huang writes about growing up in the South as the child of Chinese immigrants (not that easy, as you may imagine). He was a kind of wild kid, and the book definitely has a Bildungsroman quality, which I loved. I really appreciated how direct Huang was in his discussion of race, especially about racism again Asian Americans, which I feel like you virtually never hear discussed. Our life experiences are very different – I’m sure I missed a lot of the Hip Hop references and I only know who a few of the basketball players that Huang discussed are, but his desire to learn and to figure things out definitely resonated with me. I really liked the book. (This was one of my Read It or Lose It books, so yay!)

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. This is a book that has gotten a lot of well-deserved press. It’s well written, very well researched, interesting to read, and holy crap is it depressing. The Dust Bowl? It sucked. And people lived through it. Through a decade or so of dust that killed everything in sight, including often people. There is a strong environmental message to the book, without it being judgmental of the farmers who (unintentionally) destroyed the land. Worth reading – but have some fluff ready for when you need a break.

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich. Ah, Janet Evanovich, always providing me brain candy when I need it most (and after The Worst Hard Time, I needed). A solid addition to the Stephanie Plum series.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Jenny Lawson is a blogger known as The Bloggess. I don’t actually read her blog, but I find that I usually prefer books by bloggers that I don’t read (otherwise it seems like you reading stories you’ve already heard before). Lawson is quite funny, and this was an enjoyable read.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. This is a fiction book that examines World War II and German Guilt through the eyes of a women who was a child in Weimar during the war. It was a good book, but I read a lot about World War II and Nazi Germany and I wouldn’t say it was exceptional.

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie. Having finished all the Miss Marple books, I thought I’d start working my way through Hercule Poirot. I have to say – I don’t like Hercule Poirot as much. Not sure if I will continue my way through the series.

Defiance: Resistance Book 2 by Carla Jablonski. This was my second “Read It or Lose It” book that I read this month, and I liked it. This is another WWII book, this time a graphic novel about the Resistance (told from a child’s perspective) in Vichy France. It’s part of a trilogy, and I will definitely pick up the third book at some point to see how the story ends.

January Round-up