5 Things I Wasn’t Expecting In The First Week After My Baby Was Born
To say I was naive about pregnancy and in particular, the postpartum phase is an understatement. In my defence, I knew my son was going to be in NICU and likely to have surgery and all of our birth prep centred around getting him earthside safely and what was going to happen after that. There was very little talk about me and I had literally no follow up postnatal care.
Which meant my experience of the first week after my baby was born was a whole lot of ‘what on earth is happening right now’. Thankfully, the NICU nurses who were looking after my son were amazing and helped me as much as they could, I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them.
Needless to say, my advice to women is to get educated on not only pregnancy and birth, but also what to expect in the days and weeks after your baby comes earthside.
While I had training as a Paramedic, I was educated on the treatment of women in pregnancy and labour, and emergency conditions like post-partum haemorrhage. When it came to what was ‘normal’ I had no idea.
Here are some of the things I experienced that I wasn’t expecting in the first week after my baby was born.
1 – I Still Looked Pregnant
Wait… what? I just gave birth but I still look like I’m 5 months pregnant? And don’t even get me started on the swelling. I didn’t swell much before birth, but after? That’s an entirely different story.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I had no idea – sure I’d been trained in birth, but that was all about getting babe earthside and the immediate hours after, not much beyond that at all. So when I walked up the the NICU just 20 minutes after giving birth, I kept touching my soft stomach and remember feeling so strange and empty.
All Mama’s are different, and I’ve since learned that it takes around 4 weeks for your uterus to shrink back down to it’s pre-pregnancy size. Which is pretty darn remarkable when you think about it. This doesn’t mean that your stomach will go back to its pre-pregnancy size in 4 weeks. Everyone heals differently and it depends on how many pregnancies you’ve had, if you’ve had multiples and if you (like me) had diastasis recti.
2 – The Afterpains Are Like Labour All Over Again
Yay, birth is over, babe is here, surges (contractions) are done…. or so I thought. I remember sitting up in NICU holding my baby and getting this incredibly strong afterpain and having a minor panic thinking that somehow they’d missed that I was having twins (totally not possible, I’d had a bajillion ultrasounds), and that I was going to give birth again.
Thankfully the NICU nurse noticed and asked if I was getting afterpains, and she explained to me what they were, and got some paracetamol for me.
3 – I Cried… A Lot
I was so incredibly emotional after my first baby was born, but, like I said he was in NICU, I was living in another city at Ronald McDonald House while he was in the hospital with no family close by, and I was going through the early stages of a divorce. Emotional was to be expected.
So, when my daughter was born, and I was so incredibly happy, I thought there was something wrong when I felt like I was an emotional wreck. I cried happy tears, I cried sad tears, I cried tears that I didn’t know where what tears… On day 4 after my daughter was born, I was an absolute wreck. Caitlin (fellow Empowered Mama) sat with me for the whole day, my Midwife called and talked with me, my husband was cuddling me, my Mum was with me – but I just felt like everything was falling apart.
It was so reassuring to know that this was normal. I wasn’t ‘broken’. My hormones were all over the place after giving birth and establishing our new little life and routine, and that it would settle down. This gave me the mental space to be able to feel whatever it was I was feeling, let all the emotions out and not fear being judged or criticised. All of which wouldn’t have been as possible without the support of those around me.
4 – I Didn’t Have That Rush of Love
I’d heard time and time again about this overwhelming wave of unconditional love that women feel when their babies are born. Like earth-shattering kind of love. When I didn’t feel that after my son was born I chalked it up to a ‘self-preservation’ as such and going into survival mode knowing he was heading in for surgery and having no idea of his prognosis. But, then when my daughter was born, the same thing happened again. No earth-shattering overwhelming pouring of love.
Don’t get me wrong, I love/loved my children more than words could ever describe, but I didn’t get that big bang kind of love so many people talked about. And it turns out I’m not alone. I didn’t say anything about it for so long because I thought I was odd, or that I’d be judged as not loving my children enough or being the right kind of mum. But again, we are all different.
My love for my children came in waves. I’d see my daughter with my husband and I’d get this feeling of my heart literally jumping a beat. With my son, it built as a fierce protection, but was a much slower process as he was in NICU for nearly 10 weeks. By the time I had him home, I could barely take my eyes off him and the love was indescribable.
There’s no right way to love your children, and it doesn’t always happen in that immediate kind of way.
5 – Your Milk Doesn’t Come In Right Away
I cannot underestimate how uneducated I was when it came to the motherhood side of birth and particularly breastfeeding. I knew nothing. When I had my son he wasn’t allowed to have anything by mouth and I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to feed him and I’d have to pump – but I wasn’t told this until after he was born and I didn’t even know what a pump was!
I’m telling you, I was UNEDUCATED. I had no idea about breastfeeding or pumping or anything. I even attended a prenatal class and still didn’t know that my milk wouldn’t come in right away.
I was handed an electric pump and told to use it for twenty minutes on each side every 3 hours. This was the night my son was born. Needless to say, a pump + no milk yet = blistered nipples! It was excruciating, but I persevered because I thought that’s what I had to do for my son.
After explaining to the NICU nurse why there was blood in the few little drops of colostrum I’d managed to pump, she organised for me to see a lactation consultant and it changed everything. She was amazing and explained everything to me, including that you should never use a pump before your milk comes in!
By day 4 my chest was like it had two boulders attached to it and the milk just didn’t stop flowing. I managed to exclusively pump for 10 weeks and breastfeed/pump for the next 15 months and none of that would have been possible without the Lactation Consultant and NICU nurses that helped me along the way.
Not knowing these things beforehand made that first week after my baby was born even more turbulent and confronting. The second time around was much better and knowing what I know now, these are things I talk to expecting mothers about all the time because unless someone tells you, you just don’t know! Conversations about pregnancy and the real ‘what to expect’ are things all women should talk about.