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My thoughts on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting and life.

the power of birth

By Suzanne Brown on May 2, 2014 in birth, natural birth tags: , , ,

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of attending a birth. It is beyond amazing to watch a baby enter the world. And driving home, I was thinking about how cool birth is, how powerful it is, how powerful a woman is to give birth – and yet so many women fear it.

You have to be incredibly strong to push a baby out. There is no way around that. Giving birth is a feat of superhuman strength. Why on earth do women sit around with each other, disparaging birth and scaring our daughters with how terrifying and painful it is? We could be telling our childless friends that we got to be a real-life superhero with tremendous strength, that we are in awe of how powerful our bodies are, and instead we sow seeds of fear. We could tell our daughters that one day they will get to do something miraculous, and instead we terrify them and assure them it’s too difficult. Why do women rob each other of this incredible power?

That is a question with a lot of psychological baggage that I am not qualified to unpack. However, I think a big part of it is that we (women) and we (culture) fear women being powerful. (I know I am sounding like a crazy feminist. I assure you, I am not. I like guys to open the door for me, I appreciate being addressed as ma’am, and I am a stay-at-home mom – which to real feminists makes me basically unempowered.) I read an article this week about the physiological connection between the brain and vagina and, while the article focuses on female sexuality/sensuality, I think a lot of the points apply to birth as well. (Go read it. It’s a fascinating article.) It talks about how the complexity of the neural network in the female pelvis basically means that whatever happens in or to the vagina impacts the woman as a person – for better or worse. This means an orgasm can be transcendent, but also explains why rape is so utterly devastating. Birth is just as powerful. Barbara Katz Rothman says, “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” Giving birth changes a woman deeply – she is now a mother, and the way in which she gives birth influences how she processes that. Did she come away awed by her own strength and power, or seeing herself as a victim? And this happens with each birth, not just the first one.

I saw this picture a few years ago and was stunned by what the mom said about this moment:

roar

I begin to scream “I LOVE YOU BABY!!” over and over again as his body delivers. I can’t stop myself from saying it. I’m so overjoyed. I feel like a lion roaring these words. I feel ferocious and strong. I feel beautiful and powerful. I feel completely conscious and primitive.

Why would you not want this? We get a limited number of opportunities in this life to be a lion, and instead we have multitudes of women playing cards or watching a movie during labor because they are numb to the powerful work their bodies are doing. Does giving birth without pain medication hurt? Yes. Yes, it does. But you know what? Any time you look at a difficult endeavor, think you can’t do it, and then conquer it, you grow an enormous amount of respect for yourself. You grow as a person. In 2008 I trained for and ran a marathon and it was hard, it was painful, there were so many times during those months I thought I couldn’t possibly do it…and then I did it anyway. The human body is capable of extraordinary things. YOUR human body is capable of extraordinary things – things that are superhuman. Don’t sell yourself short.

Then, when we’re done talking about how awful birth is, conversation turns to the leftovers. Stretch marks. Saggy boobs. General flabbiness. This body, this body that does incredible things, shows it…and we hate the evidence. Carrying babies changes your body. Giving birth changes your body. Nursing babies changes your body. These are all changes that are SUPPOSED to happen. They are what your body was made to do. A caterpillar is SUPPOSED to turn into a butterfly. Do we disparage the butterfly? No, we honor the change. My mind has changed – I don’t think the way I did 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve read books, talked to different people, thought new thoughts, had wonderful life experiences, changed my opinions. I don’t call those changes ugly. I call them growth, education, wisdom, maturity. I’m glad I don’t think the way I did when I was 17; why would I want my body to be the same? That 17-year-old body had accomplished nothing but breathing and digesting for 17 years. The body that I have now has done incredible things – and shows it. In no other area do we belittle the change that comes with growth – only our bodies are insulted. Other changes are honored as good, even beautiful; sadly, changes to our bodies are hated.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Voltaire. The first responsibility is to acknowledge that power, in order to wield it well. Birth is an enormous, powerful event in a woman’s life, and when you accept that the power is in yourself, it can be a transformative, amazing experience.


postpartum recovery

By Suzanne Brown on September 12, 2013 in postpartum tags: , , , , , , , , ,

When I had The Boy, I was totally caught off guard by postpartum recovery. My main birth prep was to read the Bradley birth books, as we were overseas and had no access to a live class. In his book, Dr. Bradley says some things that weren’t exactly true for me, things like “Natural birth moms love the pushing stage!” and “Natural birth moms almost never tear! And if they do, it’s just a minor tear and they can’t feel it anyway because the baby’s head numbs the perineum!” and “Natural birth moms feel great afterward! They walk to their room instead of ride in a wheelchair and they are back to normal in no time!”

Suffice it to say that after my first birth I was cursing Dr. Bradley.

I hated pushing, I did tear – quite badly, actually – and felt every bit of it, and I tried to walk to my room (after eyeing the wheelchair I determined I would never be able to sit again) but nearly passed out when I stood up (THANK GOD Husband was holding the baby) so the wheelchair it was. And it was much longer to feel “back to normal” than I expected. Now, recovery was MUCH quicker and more comfortable after my second, so every birth is different. But I learned it is better to be prepared than sorry. It is a good idea to have some supplies gathered beforehand because you need to stay in bed for a while after giving birth – no running errands! – and if you think it is awkward for you to buy some of this stuff, try sending your husband out to get adult diapers.

1. Bleeding – You bleed pretty heavily after having a baby. It is called lochia and this happens even if you have a c-section because you are bleeding from the site where the placenta detached. My midwife told me to get some Depends and said they were really comfy and I would love them. I scoffed…but she was right. They are GREAT for the first few days. I like these – you can get coupons for them, and if you go here you can get a free pair. You will want more than the free pair, though – go ahead and treat yourself to a whole pack. After a couple of days you can switch to pads – NO TAMPONS. The bleeding usually lasts a few weeks and gradually tapers off. Your bleeding is your body’s way of telling you how you’re healing – if it picks up after slowing down, you are doing too much and need to rest more. You may feel ridiculous for resting as much as you need to but your body truly needs it. You will bleed for a much shorter time if you spend the first days/weeks in bed (or at least laying down).

Depends

2. Soreness – even if you don’t tear, your muscles just did A LOT of work. Your joints stretched. Your entire pelvis will be somewhat sore and your lady bits will be swollen. One of my friends recommended keeping Tucks pads in the fridge and layering them on top of your pad like pepperonis. This feels great! I like these because they also have aloe in them for extra healing and soothing, but regular Tucks will work fine. You can also use a bag of frozen peas as an ice pack. If you deliver with a midwife, she will sometimes give you some herbal teabag-type things to use as an ice pack too.

witch hazel pads

postpartum bath herbs

3. Bathroom – Your first pee and poop after you deliver may terrify you. For pee, your care provider *should* give you a little squirt bottle called a peri bottle (unless you are in France where they give you NOTHING). You fill it with warm water, then as you start to pee you squirt it where the pee is coming out. This dilutes it so it doesn’t burn. (You’ll thank me later.) For poop – many ladies swear by mild stool softeners. Personally I just eat Activia yogurt every day. Basically you do not want to have to push to get poop out so if you have any favorite tricks, this is the time to pull them out. (No pun intended.) Your pelvic muscles are really stretched after having a baby so you may very well discover that you have “stress incontinence,” which means you leak pee when you laugh, sneeze, or cough. Or you just leak pee. Take heart, this is correctable and (usually) a very easy fix. Go ahead and start doing Kegel-type exercises again after you deliver. These are the only exercises you are allowed to do for at least 6 weeks! Do 10 squeezes every time you nurse the baby, or give yourself some other kind of reminder.

peri bottle

4. Abdomen – During pregnancy all your internal organs get squished around to make room for baby. Once baby vacates the premises, these organs start drifting around in search of their previous home. This is a very unsettling feeling, like your whole torso is filled with Jell-O. At minimum I recommend wearing a belly band – the kind you use during pregnancy when your normal jeans don’t fit but maternity jeans are too big – to help everything feel contained. However, the more I learn about diastasis recti (abdominal separation) the more it seems to be very, very common after pregnancy. If you think you may have this I highly recommend splinting your abs, either with this splint or this one. And I know I said you were only allowed to do Kegels but I will also allow you to do a few diastasis-safe ab exercises (no crunches!!!) to take advantage of your postpartum healing hormones. (Short version: try to pull your belly button to your spine and pulse a few times. That’s it. I am not talking about a strenuous workout here, you are just trying to get the left and right halves of your abs to be friends again.)

5. Afterpains – these are contractions after you give birth. They help the uterus go back to its normal size. Supposedly you don’t feel them too much with the first baby and after that they get worse with each kid. Well, I definitely felt them after The Boy, and they didn’t feel good…but they were much worse after The Girl. When you breastfeed, your body releases oxytocin which triggers these contractions so it can be really hard to focus on your baby when you’re in pain. My midwife recommends this stuff called After Ease. There are a few different ways you can take it; I squirted a dropperful into my water bottle every time I filled it up. I started using it right after I had The Girl and I was skeptical about how well it actually worked…until I ran out. Then I promptly bought some more.

After Ease

6. Hunger (and thirst) – I thought I was hungry when I was pregnant. Oh, no. That was just a foretaste (ha!) of Hunger. The first few weeks of The Boy’s life I was RAVENOUS. Beyond ravenous. I was so hungry it felt like I would never be able to eat enough. I was so thirsty it felt like I would never be able to drink enough. If you have someone helping you after baby is born make sure they know to keep the fridge and pantry fully stocked, and ask them to make you snacks. You will spend so much time nursing and changing diapers (and sleeping whenever you can) that it will be easy to skip meals (even though you’re SO FREAKING HUNGRY). Make sure you are getting plenty of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. Your helper can wash the fruit ahead of time or cut it up if necessary so it’s grab-and-go easy for you. If you don’t have a helper, try to get your fridge stocked ahead of time or ask a friend to bring you some. Also, whether you have a helper or not, it is a good idea to put some meals in the freezer before baby comes. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this…I may have had a bad experience with procrastination on this one.

7. Sweating/leaking fluids – You have a lot of extra fluids when you’re pregnant, and I don’t just mean your amniotic fluid. Your blood volume drastically increases too. After baby is born, your body needs to get rid of all that extra fluid, so you will still find yourself peeing all the time and for a while you may also wake up at night to find yourself drenched in sweat. Additionally, you may also leak milk for a while – days or weeks for some, months for others. After a few nights of waking up soaking wet all over in milk and sweat, I started sleeping on towels. One for the upper body for the sweat and milk (I was sticking a prefold diaper in my shirt, leaking straight through that and still had a puddle of milk around me), and one under my hips/bottom in case of a pad leak. (Postpartum is a very undignified time in your life.) It is way easier to toss a wet towel on the floor and grab a clean one (or two) than to change the sheets, especially if you have to wake up daddy. This time is very short, usually a few days to a week, although the milk leaking may last longer. Breastmilk does stain so use towels you don’t mind having spots on. If your baby is sleeping with you, make sure the towel is big enough for them too because babies spit up and their diapers leak. There are just a lot of fluids going on.

8. Hair loss – After a few months – around 4, in my experience – all your hair will fall out. Even if you know this is coming, even if your friends warn you that it is A LOT of hair that will fall out, you will find yourself in the shower thinking “DEAR GOD, I HAVE CANCER, HOW WILL MY BABY EAT WHEN I DIE?!?!?!” It is a terrible amount of hair. The hair that is left will be noticeably thinner; you will find yourself wrapping that ponytail holder around an extra time or two. Then, around month 7 or 8, just when you think you are more bald than not, your hair will start to grow back so you will have a super-attractive halo of teeny little hairs that stick up all over the place.

9. Nipple pain – Everyone says it’s not normal, but it IS common, and while you get the kinks worked out of how to teach a baby to latch on you want to keep your nipples intact. My very favorite nipple cream/balm is Mustela Nursing Comfort Balm. You can get it at Babies R Us and Buy Buy Baby. They gave me a little sample packet of it at the hospital in France – the only thing they gave me – and I loved it. I acted like that stuff was gold cream the way I treasured it and used it so sparingly. For some reason it did not occur to me to give it to The Husband and tell him to go buy me a whole tube of it. Anyway, I like that it doesn’t have lanolin in it and the texture is like lotion, so it just soaks in and doesn’t stain your clothes or feel sticky. It’s great stuff.

Nursing-Comfort-Balm_0

The most important thing you can know about postpartum recovery is REST. Rest rest rest rest rest. Don’t go to the mall, don’t go for long walks, don’t do any housework that isn’t absolutely necessary for survival. Just stay in bed with your baby and rest. Besides being great for breastfeeding and bonding, you will heal so much faster and better if you take the first few weeks to simply rest. Gather a “kit” of your recovery supplies before your birth so you don’t feel the need to go to the store. Instead, you can focus your attention and whatever energy you have on getting to know your sweet baby!