We left the hospital about 12 hours after I gave birth. That walk out to the car and car ride home were pretty painful experiences. With the world’s biggest pad stuffed in my maternity underwear I was waddling worse than I had waddled in there, and with the numbness from the stitches fully worn off every bump in the road was amplified. I was terrified to strap our fragile little baby into the car seat, and worried that she wouldn’t be able to breath sitting upright because she had no neck strength. She was a wet noodle. A crying wet noodle who was as afraid of this new life as I was. I wish I’d been more in-the-moment bringing her home, but I was kind of in a tired haze, just focused on getting my ass into bed with some padsicles in my pants. Someone else carried the car seat inside. I don’t think we even got any pictures of Avery’s homecoming.
I remember eating a lot of oatmeal cookies and drinking small glasses of dark beer. We pretended it would help me to produce more milk, but I kept eating those cookies and drinking dark beers way after I developed an overabundant milk supply.
It took me a couple of days to feel a deep connection with Avery. I knew I loved her – hell, I knew I’d die for her – but she still felt like a stranger at first. I remember sitting in bed on the first afternoon home, trying to nurse her in the first bit of privacy I’d had as a new mother. I tried to study her features so I could get to know her better. We were perfect strangers. But the more I did that – the more I nursed her and stared at her and studied her, the more she started to feel like the most familiar person in my life, like she had always been a part of me. It just took a couple of days.
Recovery was rough. I was in a lot of discomfort from the tearing for a good month after birth, and didn’t stop bleeding until 6 weeks post-partum. I still had an open tear that hadn’t healed at 6 weeks, so the peri bottle and sitz baths had to continue for almost 2 months. The worst part of the slow healing process was that I felt like I couldn’t take care of my baby efficiently. Getting out of bed to pick her up, sitting up in bed to nurse her, rocking her and pacing the hallway with her, all were painful.
Breastfeeding was a good experience from the start. It took 5 days for my milk to come in, but the midwives were very chilled out about her weight loss and gave us the time we needed to catch our stride. She has been in the >90th percentile for weight ever since 2 months old. I do remember the scabbing nipples, though, and the cringe at her hungry cry knowing I was in for some jabbing pain while she latched. I remember her eating some nipple scabs and worrying that her tummy wasn’t ready for solids yet… yeah, I went there. But the love hormones swelled every time she nursed, and I could tangibly feel our bond strengthening every day.
Post-partum was a lesson for me in just how hard having a baby was. I had dreamt of it being all naps and snuggles and having coffee at the cafe with her sleeping in the stroller. Nope, not in the cards for us. She was colicky. She cried a lot, and only nursing would soothe her. Sometimes nursing wouldn’t soothe her, and we would take turns bouncing her in our arms, crying from tiredness, aching backs, and worry, for hours into the night.
I struggled with post-partum anxiety. I didn’t feel safe taking her anywhere. I was also fiercely protective and didn’t like it when others held her. I tried to hide us away in a little bubble of my motherly love, hoping it would keep us both safe from the scary outside world.
Post-partum was tough. But slowly, little by little, day by day, things got easier. She started to tolerate being placed in the swing so I could shower. She started to eat a little bit more efficiently so I could have an hour (or two, maybe!) without her attached to me.
There are two experiences that mark the end of the tough post-partum period for me. One is when I put on non-maternity jeans for the first time. The next was the day I went for a stroller walk and realized I could go more than a couple of blocks from the house without anxiety washing over me; I actually remember the spot on the sidewalk where I stopped and appreciated the significance of how normal I felt – how capable I felt to get another block further from home, and then another block, and another block.
And with my pre-pregnancy jeans on and the freedom to move about the world as I pleased, I declared the post-partum period over. I had survived what I honestly believe were the hardest 2 months of my life. The transition into motherhood can be brutal and shocking, but just as with my memories of birth, the good shine bright enough to overshadow the bad.