Wednesday, March 1, 2017

that fourth trimester though...

So I've been trying to get a video of this for like twenty minutes, but I'm sitting here on the couch and watching the baby kick so hard that it's actually knocking things off my belly. Ha! Of course, every time I aim the phone in the right direction, he quiets down. I guess it's My Eyes Only for now. :)

I have to say, I am getting legit excited to meet this baby. A new smoosh to snuggle, new cheeks to kiss, a new tush to squeeze, and I seriously can't wait to see Rowan and Browan (as we've jokingly been calling him - Rowan's brother = Bro-wan, geddit geddit?) interact with each other. 

The other day, my friend posted a picture of her newborn napping on her chest with the caption, "The fourth trimester is the best trimester." (The "fourth trimester" refers to the three months postpartum.) Ha! I scoffed. In fact, I was almost...insulted? I truly didn't understand how that would be possible. That postpartum stage was the worst "trimester" by far for me the first time around. Granted, my friend had hyperemesis gravidarum (aka constant barfing during your entire freaking pregnancy), so she basically just endured a nine-month battle with norovirus and is thrilled to be on the other side. Still, trying to imagine how my fourth trimester will be this time around, from the cushy vantage point of a dreamy second trimester (so much energy, so much sleep, so not sick, so not sore from birthing and nursing), doesn't leave much to be desired. In fact, I'll just say it: I've been DREADING that fourth trimester. It's what made me nervous about ever having another baby.

Thinking about it logically, there were a lot of reasons I struggled so much and hated the first few months after Rowan was born. I mean...

::1. Breastfeeding issues
I've talked a lot here about all the issues we had with breastfeeding, which led to me exclusively pumping for more than a year. I have a different outlook on breast milk these days (understanding that fed is best, versus breast is best), but whew, those nursing troubles in the first couple months postpartum totally threw me for a loop. Every feeding was a battle, and the breastfeeding process (finger-tube-feed, then bottle, then pump for twenty minutes, then wash everything) left less than an hour between feedings for sleeping, feeding myself, peeing, etc. I never experienced the postpartum joy of lying around with a sleeping baby on you, because there was no time for me to lay around.

::2. Postpartum mood disorder
I also had pretty bad postpartum anxiety, no doubt exacerbated by Rowan's feeding issues. The anxiety robbed me of a lot of that bliss that new moms experience; everything was tainted by worry and fear. I wrote an article for the Scary Mommy website about it and appeared on a local news segment to discuss what helped, so I've spent a lot of time processing it all, but it still looms as my primary recollection of being a new mom: feeling terrified.

::3. Rough c-section recovery
I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but recovering from my c-section (which was planned, since she was breech) was way harder than I'd anticipated, based on stories from friends who'd had them. In the hospital, I couldn't lay flat without passing out, but I couldn't sit up without searing pain in my abdomen. I walked hunched over for weeks and couldn't get on or off the couch without help. There was the unsettling combo of extreme numbness around my incision site, but horrific sensitivity at the edges of the numbness. Keeping track of all the post-surgical meds I was on - Percocet, ibuprofen, a prophylactic laxative - was a round-the-clock job. Plus, no one ever told me how or when to start stepping down the meds, so I was still taking the full dose of Percocet at two weeks postpartum (not typical, apparently). The Percocet made me foggy and sleepy, causing me to nod off every time I pumped, and I couldn't follow conversations or focus on anything. I quit cold turkey when a lactation consultant mentioned I probably didn't need to be on the full dose anymore, that maybe it was contributing to Rowan's sleepiness at the breast, and it was like the world came back to life. All in all, post-surgery, I felt beyond frustrated that I couldn't just jump back into life the way it seemed like my friends had done. It made me feel weak.

::4. Sleep deprivation
I know, boo-hoo, another mom complaining about sleep deprivation. It's hard for everyone, but I will give myself a little credit and say that my experience was slightly different from the norm. Not only was I recovering from major surgery (and literally did not sleep for more than thirty minutes in a row until we left the hospital after three days), but we had to wake Rowan up to feed her every three hours, per doctor's orders. As I described above, our breastfeeding routine was so involved that there was only about an hour out of every three hours that I could even possibly be sleeping, and my anxiety caused insomnia during a lot of those one-hour chunks. Since Rowan was slow to gain weight, we didn't let her sleep longer than three hours during the night for months, which meant I didn't sleep for more than an hour or so at a time for months.

::5. Lack of routine
This messed with me more than I realized. Everyone loves to claim that they're spontaneous and flexible and easygoing, that they don't want to be pinned down by a rigid schedule...but that only actually holds true for a small percentage of the population. Most people don't realize how important routines are in their lives, because they take them for granted. Go to work, go home, spend time with friends and family - there can be a lot of variability within the structure, but most people know what to expect from their day-to-day lives, and knowing what to expect is beneficial.

I, for one, thrive on routine. It doesn't have to be intensely specific (I eat lunch at 12:15 exactly), but I like predictability (on Tuesdays, we go the library for story time). I'm not going to throw a tantrum just because the museum turns out to be closed or school's out for the week or my meeting gets rescheduled. It's more that I thrive when I don't have to expend energy adjusting to constant changes, big and little. Some people thrive when their everyday routines are mixed up - livened up, they'd be more likely to describe it. Spontaneity invigorates them. Me, I'm happiest when I know what to expect and have a decent routine in place.

All this to say - routines are pretty much thrown out the window during the fourth trimester. Not only are you adjusting to a new baby and new motherhood, but you're also adjusting to the weird abyss of maternity leave (if you're fortunate enough to have one). I know I was lucky to have twelve weeks to be home with my newborn, but it was tough to have the days (and the long, long nights) stretch out endlessly in front of me. I'm also an introvert, and what little energy I had was completely sapped by having constant visitors (who I wanted to hang out with but couldn't actually handle for more than about fifteen-minute stretches) and a multitude of appointments (lactation consultants, pediatricians, occupational therapy for the baby, psychiatry for me). There was no time alone, no time to recharge, and I wasn't able to recognize the effect that was having on me, let alone figure out a solution to it.

::6. Feeling alone
The friends who'd given birth around the same time as me seemed to be adjusting way more easily than I was. They'd post snuggly pictures, claiming to love the time when it was just Mama and Baby, quiet together in the hush of the night. Meanwhile, I'd be scrolling through Facebook while attached to the pump at three a.m., trying desperately to stay awake through a Percocet haze, sometimes looking longingly at my husband while he cuddled our baby and a bottle of my hard-earned breastmilk - and sometimes shooting daggers of rage at him and the baby as they slept peacefully through the rhythmic nipple-yanking I was experiencing. One friend who'd had a c-section within a few days of mine posted a picture of her sweet little family on a hike in the woods together, baby happily ensconced in an Ergo, pausing to nurse and grin for the camera. Meanwhile, I couldn't stand up straight without level-nine shooting pains at my incision site, my baby hated being worn, and every feeding was a three-person, hour-long ordeal that always involved tears from at least one of us. Basically, everyone else seemed to be assimilating, and I still couldn't figure out how to dress myself (nursing bra? nursing tank? what pants do I wear when I'm too big for regular pants but too small for maternity stuff??). What was I doing wrong?


So, you know. All in all, my fourth trimester was a rough time. NOT my favorite trimester.

BUT. I survived. 

Honestly, that alone doesn't give me much comfort. In fact, that's what I've been dreading so much - having to just survive for a few months postpartum. Seeing my friend's picture the other day, though - the one where she claimed "the fourth trimester is the best trimester" - got me thinking.

When has dreading something ever helped make it better? And, actually, doesn't dreading it just make the negativity leak into all my other trimesters? Moreover, who's to say it won't be a completely different experience this time? The truth is that I struggled during the fourth trimester for a multitude of reasons, but none of those reasons is destined to be repeated the second time around. The resources that helped me through my fourth trimester with Rowan are still in place: husband, family, friends, medical professionals. They're all wonderful and necessary, but? I need to recognize that I have even more resources now. 

Friends on Instagram yesterday were quick to point that out when I asked for suggestions on making the fourth trimester a great one. The thing that gives me the most hope, actually, is what one friend said: "Different baby, different mama." Different baby, yes! Don't get me wrong, I adored Baby Rowan and have the best memories of (most of) her first year...but those first three months, oy. However: There's no reason to believe the new baby will have milk-transfer issues leading to an inability to nurse effectively. There's no reason to believe the new baby will be slow to gain weight and have to be woken to eat at all hours of the day and night. Different baby.

More importantly...different mama. A second baby's job is to throw his parents for a loop and make them realize they don't know as much as they thought they did (gee, I'm just so positive and sunny, aren't I?!), but there are a few nuggets of knowledge that can't be taken away:

:: I have a different perspective on the importance of breastfeeding, both for me and for my baby. Fed is best, period. I know it's vital to prioritize myself in the newborn-mother dyad, that the baby's health isn't the only thing that matters at the expense of everything else.

:: I know the warning signs of postpartum anxiety and am already taking steps to prevent it - I'm starting antenatal therapy, and I took a mindfulness class in the fall that's created a huge shift in my well-being. Plus, now I know who to turn to if/when I need support with anxiety.

:: I may or may not have a c-section, but regardless of delivery method, I have a better understanding of how my body is likely to respond to the process, and how long it might take for me - not others - to recover. 

:: I know the sleep deprivation will still be a struggle, but I also know it's temporary. In fact, all the struggles of the fourth trimester are temporary, which was impossible to perceive as a new mom. It truly, truly felt that whatever challenge we were facing - a sleep regression, a nursing strike, teething - was going to last forever.

:: Not only am I used to spending my days at home instead of at work, but having an older child kind of forces some routine to be maintained. She'll still have classes, play dates, and bedtimes, and hopefully those will anchor me instead of stress me out.

:: And as for feeling alone. Well, first of all, I've learned not to believe the social media stories that are constantly curated and presented. Those moms? The ones going for a run when I'm still trying to walk? The ones making a casserole with the baby in a carrier while I'm still grabbing handfuls of Cheerios when I remember to? They're still dealing with passing blood clots and worrying about Baby's poop and being so exhausted that they can't remember their partner's name. Not only that, but I've learned how to use social media to my advantage: asking for nursing advice (and ignoring it when necessary), garnering joy from others' responses to cute baby pictures, posting urgent questions at two a.m. and getting supportive responses. Also, I have a whole community that I didn't have the first time around - my "new mom" group. They're the ones who are in the trenches with me, and they're my favorite place to turn when I'm feeling worried or inadequate. 


I guess the truth is that, no matter what, the fourth trimester is going to have moments of bliss and moments of stress. All I can do is maximize the bliss and manage the stress...you know, pretty much like life in general. I've gotten so much better at that in the three and a half years since I became a mom, which means my job now is to be confident in myself.

Also, I'll pose the same question here that I did on Instagram: Any suggestions to make the fourth trimester go smoothly? I'm open to anything!

Fifteen more weeks to go. :)

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