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Things I Didn't Know About Post-Partum

Since Madeleine was a c-section, the whole vaginal-birth-and-recovery thing was totally new to me. And just as I mentioned in a recent labor blog, I definitely learned a few new things:

Epidural – the gift that keeps on giving. Sure, the anesthesiologist talked over all possible side effects before administering the epidural. But frankly, I was in the midst of some rather serious contractions and short of hearing him say it would make me push an elephant out of my uterus, I wasn’t really concerned with any of his cautions. In one ear and out the other, so to speak. That is, until I tried to roll over in bed a couple nights later and felt a sharp but aching pain in my lower vertebrae. Yes, epidurals can cause some phantom pain for a few days post-use, and I had some real zingers. Lying on my side and attempting to twist my spine, it felt as if there were still a needle in the disc between the two bones, and if I moved I’d seriously rip something. Not the case, of course, but it still felt that way. For the record, headaches post-epidural are common as well, though I didn’t experience that.

Your feet swell after a vaginal birth, too. My OB had warned me during my c-section that my feet would swell a lot, mostly due to the extra fluids they pumped in during surgery. And sure enough, I was Elephant Girl for a good 24 hours. This time around, no one warned me, and the day after I delivered I noticed my hands and feet swelling alarmingly. Since the swelling had been a warning sign of my preeclampsia just days before, I ran to the recovery nurses and asked them to take my blood pressure to make sure I wasn’t getting post-partum preeclampsia. They simply laughed (!!!) and assured me it was just from my pitocin drip. Thanks for warning me.

Coughing and sneezing doesn’t just hurt after a c-section. I was surprised at how no one had mentioned this one to me, but it’s true. After my c-section I got lots of warnings that coughing, sneezing, or laughing would hurt for a few weeks. This made sense, and was certainly true, and I was prepared for it.

After my VBAC, though, I learned you have to be careful during this recovery as well. Every time I would sneeze or need to cough I’d feel the pressure on my pelvic floor, causing definite pain “down there”. Not nearly as bad as after the c-section, but significant. Trying to brace myself and do a kegel beforehand helped, but didn’t completely take it away. And this lasted for a good week or two.

Metamucil is your friend.
One word here, girlfriends: hemorrhoids.

After delivery I noticed I had one and was a bit freaked out about having to deal with it. After all, the doctor tells you to abstain from sexual activity for SIX WEEKS to give yourself time to heal, but no one can tell your colon to take a couple months off while the rest of you heals. I expressed my, um, concern to my doctor, who (bless her heart) didn’t laugh at all but simply encouraged me STRONGLY to take a daily dose of Metamucil for a couple weeks to help things out. This is definitely worth it, is all I can say.

Hospital underwear RULES! Ok, so I already knew this one, and was frankly looking forward to getting another stash of their disposable underwear. A doula friend had warned me the first time around to stock up on the hospital undies, and I did though I thought she was crazy. This time I knew first-hand, and took everything they offered. First off, the undies are one-size-fits-all, and incredibly comfortable. High-waisted (good after a c-section!) and not tight anywhere, ugly as anything but nothing beats them for comfort. No hand-washing required, either; just throw away when dirty. And finally, no panty lines.

Which when you’ve just given birth and nothing fits, is a big deal.

There is no comparison between c-sections and vaginal births.
Having done both, I can honestly weigh in on the debate now, and say there’s simply no contest. Yes, labor is painful and draining, but 1) there are drugs to help with that should you so choose; and 2) it’s over relatively quickly. The recovery for a vaginal birth is SO much easier than the recovery from a surgical c-section. It’s really no comparison.

Now I understand that there exist horror stories of awful, rending labors that required six weeks of recovery. And I’ll admit that I had an epidural halfway through my labor, which definitely eased my pain and made the whole thing much less draining. And finally, I had no episiotomy and virtually no tearing to recover from, which makes a big difference. But still, you must hear me. C-section is major surgery, and should not be undertaken lightly. No way could I have cared for Madeleine while recovering from a c-section nearly as well: it took me two weeks to go for a one-mile walk by myself at a snail’s pace after Maddie, while I was taking her to the park and playing (carefully!) with her the first week after Cora was born.

It’s easier now that you’ve had practice. I’m not saying post-partum is a piece of cake just because you’ve already had one kid. I’m saying you’re more relaxed and confident – you know how to hold a newborn’s head and how to deal with the belly button thing. So you’re less freaked out, less stressed, and that pays off all around. You don’t even consider waking the baby to feed it and laugh if anyone suggests it. You can do this, and all the stuff you forgot about a newborn comes back in an instant.

So that’s what I learned this second time around. I’m still dealing with the nursing thing, but I’m sure I’ll have an opinion on that subject as well.


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