Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Third Day

The other day I shared the news about the home birth of friend/distant relative. Today, another online friend (an online one from afar) is having a tough first week postpartum, and it reminded me of my own beginnings. There was so much that was wonderful - and so much that was not just grueling, but frankly, terrifying. For many moms, the Third Day is the day of reckoning. Hormonally, you're undergoing the biggest changes you will ever undergo in your life apart from puberty and menopause, and both of those take place over the course of years, not days or even just hours. Going from being pregnant to not being pregnant, and then from not-lactating to lactating . . . And then there's the sleep deprivation, and the overwhelming reality of one's responsibility as a mom hits you - well, sometimes it's just not very pretty. If you're reading this, you've probably been there.

Here's my crash course boot camp story, in a nutshell:

Day 3 into 4 was the time of staring into the abyss for me. OH, but I was an absolute wreck. I had only slept a few scattered hours total since the birth, my hemorrhoids were terribly inflamed, making it impossible to get comfortable in any position, but especially sitting, my milk had just come in and I was hugely engorged with what felt like rocks in my boobs and ARMPITS and had no idea whether it was normal, I was freaking out about Lily's umbilical cord getting funky, and worst of all it was becoming clear that she was having trouble latching, though I had no idea just how epic this would turn out to be (but that is entirely another story).

I felt completely buried by my endless task list. In addition to just caring for a brand-new precious baby, I had to make sure to 1. learn to use the breast pump, 2. take both of our temperatures regularly, 3. make sure I was getting enough fluids, 4. do fundal massage to help my uterus keep contracting down, 5. keep replenishing my witch hazel and comfrey pads in the freezer to soothe my bottom, 6. do lots of skin-to-skin contact with her, 7. swaddle her, 8. feel confused about which of the former two I should be doing at any given moment, 9. put her in the sun periodically to help with her mild jaundice (and at one point I was CONVINCED I had done so for a few minutes too long and given my newborn a sunburn and was despondent), 10. figure out how to use my Maya Wrap, when thanks to the extremely confusing DVD I couldn't even get it threaded . . . And all of this was on top of nursing difficulties. Yeah, I was a little overwhelmed.

I remember sitting at the computer at 6 am with cabbage leaves stuffed into my bra, tears rolling down my face, posting a pitiful thread on Mothering.com's forums asking for help. I had never felt so pathetic. I remember sobbing hysterically - and I do mean hysterically - when Lily wet her diaper while lying on a heating pad - it leaked (I hadn't gotten the hang of using the waterproof covers yet) and I was suddenly convinced that she could have been electrocuted and it was all my fault. I remember on day 4, having not ventured out of the house since I was in labor, Aaron convincing me to take a walk during a time when Lily was asleep. I wasn't up for a long walk, but he begged me to please, at least get some air, just for 5 minutes. Clearly he could see that I was becoming seriously unhinged. So I agreed to walk to the mailbox. I ambled out the front door, dazed, and then realized I had walked out there with my shirt COMPLETELY unbuttoned and hanging open, in the state I'd been walking around the house in. Thank goodness no neighbors were around to see, and it did give me the first laugh I'd had.

I never saw why a postpartum doula would be such a big help before I had that day, and then I totally got it.

(Note the breast pump tubing.)

Can you relate? Share your own Days of Reckoning?


  1. I had had a complicated delivery and was still in the hospital 3 days after delivery. My milk had come in and the nursing bra I'd brought was about 2 sizes too small (the nurse who had fit me 2 weeks before had insisted that your breasts SHRINK when your milk first comes in) and I had to cut the crotch out of the mesh diapers they give you to hold your pads in and use that as my bra with nursing pads stuffed in it. Funny now, but NOT funny then.

    I was still searching for a medication that would allow me to breastfeed b/c after 24 hrs of nursing I'd learned I was giving harmful medicine to my son. Of course my doctors were not supportive in this, so when my son slept I had my laptop out, researching alternatives.

    I also spent a lot of time crying because I wasn't getting any answers from the nurses or doctors about what was wrong with me or how dangerous it was going to be. If it was safe for me to have a home birth I totally would have. I really, truly get why people hate delivering in hospitals.

    What does a postpartum doula do?

  2. This is all very familiar right down to the worrying about giving my kid a sunburn, the cabbage leaves, and the sad (but totally necessary) walk to the end of my block (I lived in an apartment at the time. With kid #2 we lived in a house with a porch and it was worlds better).

    As a midwife, I pretty routinely tell women that their milk will come in on the third day and the tears will come right behind it. I try to help them anticipate this. I also tell them no visitors at all on the third day, or only the ones who will give you a hug, fill your sitz bath, and make you dinner. And I try to say this in front of the partner whenever possible.

    I'm curious why you were fussing with the pump and the maya wrap on day 3. I try to keep the pump out of the equation if at all possible, because it often makes the problem worse instead of better (though there are certainly exceptions to that rule). I'm trying to remember when I first brought out the sling. I always used a pouch sling at the very beginning, which I think helped. But I think it may have been several more days before I used even that.

    Great post - thanks for sharing this most intimate of portraits of new motherhood! I'm going to send it to my 36+ week sister! :)

  3. okay, I feel for ya! Esp the part when you walk to the mailbox half naked... the mail man and the UPS man have both seen my breasts totally unintentionally the first week PP. I would forget to pull the tank top over them when I answered the door. I thought it was funny... DH didn't enjoy it nearly as much. I hear you on the PP doula, after my last birth I told DH that we are getting one next time and he didn't argue, definiatly worth their cost!
    Amy Romano, great advice on the no visitors day 3!

  4. ah, day three...

    my son wasn't peeing as much as i thought he should and my nipples were being shredded (he was tongue-tied and we didn't find out until the next day)... because of the weight gain issues i had with my first child, i became intensely worried that my second was going to follow the same path of low weight gain... i was beside myself that i couldn't provide enough for my child, once again...

    i was suppose to have a homebirth, but transferred to the hospital because of a antepartum hemmorhage... turns out, it was a placental abruption... it started to hit me on day 3 just how lucky both baby and i were to be here... the danger we were in really sunk in... it could have been so much worse...

    and, as silly as it seems, i was only 39 weeks along anda because i went to 41w2d with my first son, i didn't really expect to have my second so soon... i think i was in shock to already have him here...

  5. Oh my lord, this made me laugh so hard I cried! For me, after my home birth this past July, it was the fourth day postpartum (baby born Monday afternoon, so this was Friday) that I completely fell apart. I remember calling my midwife on the third day because my ankles were swollen from leftover fluid and her telling me to take my BP because eclampsia can develop PP. I got a high reading (as I often do when I'm scared or nervous), did some research with Dr. Google, and decided I was going to die and leave my baby without a mother. I called her back, crying, and she asked me a few questions and said she really thought it was nothing and did I have something I could take to calm my nerves. I was like, you mean like valium? (She had meant an herbal like rescue remedy). This is all funny to me now, but it was so awful in the moment. I felt trapped inside my head and kind of psycho. I also hadn't slept more than a few hours since the birth. Good times. I definitely see how a postpartum doula could be helpful!

    BTW, I love your blog, thanks so much for all you do here. I have passed your "letters to a young homebirther" post on to friends.

  6. My baby was in the NICU and, on day 3 we were dealing with him being warmed up from 91 degrees (cooled for first 72 hours due to hypoxic brain injury) so he could be put on ECMO (for severe MecAsp that caused his lung to colapse twice and kept him from keeping O2 sats up even on a high pressure oscilation ventilator) The only time my emotions really got the better of me the whole 32 days (although I never did get my milk in a 'rush', just a slow increase, but I was pumping, not nursing the first month) was almost 3 weeks after birth when they again denied me the ability to hold my baby. They kept saying 'when X happens you can hold him' then, when X happened they'd say 'well, we need to wait until Y happens'. The 3rd time it happened I was just overcome with emotions that they were stealing my baby from me and my husband had to pull me away from the doctor before I lost my control and started screaming at them. (I think all I had time to say was something along the lines of 'you said we could hold him when he got off ECMO, then you said we could hold him when he got his chest tubes out, then you said we could hold him when he got off the ventilator, its too hard if you are going to keep changing this, just tell me when I CAN hold him' I know that doesn't sound like someone losing it, but my voice was getting all quivery and frantic by the end of the statement and my husband knew enough to pull me away from the doctor's at cribside and over to a chair, where I sobbed without actually crying for a few minutes before I was able to regain my control.) I am still furious at the doctors and emotionally traumatized at the fact that I didn't get to hold my son until he about 3 weeks old.

  7. Marfmom, first of all, what an absurd thing for a nurse to say. I cannot even imagine how anyone, much less a medical professional, could ever think that. And I SO feel you on the "Funny now - NOT so funny then". Did you save that MacGyvered mesh undies-nursing bra as a souvenir from the abyss? Hmm. I think I may have a Halloween costume idea for next year - Postpartum Mom! Mesh "bra" with nursing pads attached, shirt wide open, cabbage leaves sticking out, a hemorrhoid donut seat attached to the bum, to say nothing of the tangled hair and milk stains and bleary eyes - AIEEEEE! Not much scarier than that.

    And the right question is "What DOESN'T a postpartum doula do?" You've come to the right place - check out my FAQ!

  8. Amy, your words of advice to moms are VERY well-phrased! I'm going to make sure to remember those for moms of my own.

    The reason I was having to mess with the pump, unfortunately, was because of the nursing situation. (You've probably read the whole crazy tale, but here it is just in case.) When Lily was born, she had no rooting reflex at all, none. Anything that was placed in her mouth, she would just clamp down (see the photo of her suckle being evaluated above - I should have labeled it). No suckling action at. all. And her tongue was completely retracted to the back of her mouth - part of the posterior tie. By the second day I was getting very, very worried that without stimulation, my milk would never come in, and that she wasn't getting colostrum. So I started pumping, both to get her the colostrum via dropper and to stimulate my supply. Thus began 5 months of pumping every 3 hours, le sigh.

    I probably could have waited on the sling, though, in hindsight, it's true. ;o)

    And thanks. I hope it helps your sister!

  9. Jenn, I'm so glad there are others who can relate to my wholly unintentional immodesty!

    Our Life With Two Boys, wow, you really had a rough go! So glad you guys turned out okay. And I've so been there on the tongue tie!

    Star, YES, again with the "Funny NOW . . ." You poor thing! I can totally follow your train of thought/panic on the blood pressure! I remember having similar resigned-to-death moments with the passing of some of the clots! That's something I should have included in the post, actually.

    My midwives explained to me that they used to say to call them if I passed any clots larger than an egg, and that they had revised it to being anything larger than a fist. I thought they were exaggerating. Oh no, no they weren't. I remember sitting in the bathroom comparing my fist to the clot, and thinking, well, I guess I'm done for.

    And thank you so much! So happy it's passed on if it helps anyone!

  10. Oh Jespren. I really choked up as I was reading what you finally said to them. I am amazed you were able to hold it together as long as you did! I know I wouldn't have. And I'm so sorry it took so long for you to be able to hold him. Huge, huge hugs.

  11. I don't have a day 3 story of my own, but I do remember one mom I went to do PP doula work for. I hadn't gotten a chance to meet her before the birth, but she had sounded nice enough on the phone right before she gave birth. I got to their house on day 3, just after they returned from the hospital and she was about to try to get some sleep. I was a little surprised by how unfriendly and distant she seemed. She fell asleep, I woke her up about 2 hours later to feed her hungry baby, did that side-lying and still not very friendly.

    She fell back to sleep, woke up 2 hours later to nurse again and was a completely different person. "Hi! How are you! Tell me about yourself! Oh my gosh, the birth took so long!" etc. Turns out she hadn't slept basically at all in the hospital. It was unbelievable how big a difference 4 hours of sleep made! Postpartum doulas and sleep: so important.

  12. Yes, thank you for this very intimate and personal portrayal of new parenthood.

    With my firstborn, my third day coincided with the day I came home from the hospital. It also coincided with the day my MIL (who, along with my mother, was staying at our house) first showed her "nastier side" in front of me--a day in which she called my mother a "f-ing bitch," demanded that we install a television (that we could not afford, and certainly did not buy) in her bedroom, and would only say of our infant son that he "had a weird cry." Coupled with (unplanned) c-section recovery, this seemed to trigger my subsequent struggle with PPD.

    Although there were extenuating circumstances that contributed to my MIL's actions, and although we get along well (though with some distance) today, her actions were *totally* inexcusable and inappropriate in a "postpartum house." And this is why I think that postpartum douals are so invaluable. Among many of their other benefits, they don't bring any emotional baggage that family members can bring to one's home.