What About When Things Don’t Go Well…

The more I read this book, Push Back by Amy Tuteur, MD, the more I wonder where the moms who haven’t had a good experience with birth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and such are. There is so much of a huge focus on the births that go well, the breastfeeding that goes well, and yet the moms who are buried beneath PTSD symptoms from a traumatic birth or “failed” breastfeeding get pushed under the rug.

I had a midwife appointment this past week, and had specifically requested the appointment be with one of the midwives who is also a lactation consultant. I wanted to ask her if she had any advice as to how to prepare for pumping as little bear will most likely not be able to nurse right away. She didn’t have very many tips for me, but she didn’t make me feel bad when I said I was still preparing to possibly not be able to breastfeed. I had a fairly difficult experience with Little Monkey. Sure, I did manage to breastfeed him for 15 months before he weaned himself. But those were hellish 15 months. I developed a nursing aversion in the beginning (like within a week of him being born) that included intense nausea and almost panic attack levels of anxiety every time my milk let down. He was also the kind of baby, and still is that kind of toddler, who absolutely refuses to eat unless he is hungry. This meant a lot of frustrated nursing sessions because I was engorged but he wasn’t ready to eat. Then add in severe back spasms (thanks to an un-diagnosed gallbladder issue) and I couldn’t nurse without severe back pain unless I had good back support. But I kept going, I refused to consider stopping because I was fed that constant narrative that “breast is best.”

Here’s what I want to make clear – yes, breast may be a bit better than formula, but for those of us who live in a first world country with access to good health care, good formula, and who actually get the CHOICE to breastfeed or not, breastfeeding doesn’t trump formula. Feeding your child formula isn’t going to destroy them for life. But there are many narratives that dominate the parenthood/motherhood arena of life that have been set up to make mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed feel severely guilty or ashamed. I would be willing to say that I continued breastfeeding Little Monkey to MY detriment. I struggled with a lot of postpartum depression and anxiety for months alongside the difficult breastfeeding. No one told me that it would be okay if I wasn’t able to continue breastfeeding. I cried the day he weaned himself. I didn’t cry because I “lost a bond” I cried from relief. But I had continued because I told myself that Little Monkey and I would lose our bond if I stopped.

This isn’t true though. Just because I fed my child from my breast doesn’t mean our bond wouldn’t have been any different than if I had fed him with a bottle. Think of the adoptive moms, and how they bond with their children while NOT being able to nurse them. That mother/child bond is not dependent on how you feed your child, or how you deliver your child into this world. It is, however, solely based on how much you take care of them. Are you there to make sure they feel safe and can rely on you to be there for them? Are you there to make sure their tummies are full and they have a comfortable place to sleep?

As I am mentally preparing for the possibility of not being able to breastfeed little bear, I am having to fight a HUGE inner battle against self-inflicted shame that that’s not doing what’s best for my baby. Logically I know that I’m going to do what is best for little bear, but holy crap, the shame and guilt I’m having to fight. It’s not good. Granted, I am in a slightly different situation with little bear’s condition. With his probable neurogenic bowel/bladder, breast milk is something that would/could greatly help him. There are options of using donor milk, but my goal is to make sure that if my body simply does not want to participate, then I want to take the shame off me and let him eat formula without any extra guilt on me. This whole pregnancy is teaching me the great importance of making the best decisions for my child AND me regardless of what the culture around me is trying to pressure me to do.

So what happens when it doesn’t go well? Nothing should happen. Nothing being no shaming, no guilt tripping, no making struggling mamas feel bad for not doing such n such. We should instead be supporting mamas for making the best decisions for themselves AND their babies. Did you notice that? I said “…making the best decisions for THEMSELVES.” Too much of the parenthood/motherhood culture builds a cage around mothers making it difficult for them to get the care they need. With postpartum depression on the rise, more mothers losing their lives to that and anxiety, we need to be more aware of helping mothers take care of themselves. Thanks to my amazing therapist, I had the tools to be able to take steps back from being Little Monkey’s mama multiple times because I felt like I was losing myself and losing my mind.

I want to see the narrative change. I want to see mothers hear that having a c-section is okay, that having pain meds during labor is okay, that not being able to or choosing not to breastfeed is okay. We already hear that natural birth is okay, in fact it’s so prevalent that that’s the loudest voice we hear. Hearing that breast is best is also such a loud voice that we don’t hear that not being able to or choosing not to is also okay. While there is nothing wrong with natural birth, I just want to see those advocates support and lift up the mamas who can’t have a natural birth or hey, guess what, choose not to!! No mama is any less or any more for how they bring their children into the world. Nor are they any less or any more for how they provide for their children. The thing that matters is how present you are for that child. How are you going to raise your child? That’s the more important question. Birth, breastfeeding, those are only a drop in the bucket of a child’s life.

 

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How I’m Preparing Practically/Physically for My C-Section

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Having my hopes for birth sidetracked has made me flounder, looking for that solid ground to stand on. I know I can’t be the only mama who’s faced this floating in limbo feeling! So because of that I want to use this post to talk about some of the things that I am slowly putting together in a practical effort to prepare for the c-section and following chaos.

I know there is very little that I can do to physically/practically prepare for a c-section. While I don’t have any qualms with knowing I’m going to have a scheduled major surgery, I do feel the need to keep my hands busy. I am nervous about being separated from my little bear immediately upon delivery and not getting to be with him for who knows how long when he is taken to the NICU. But, that’s a post for another time!

I’m going to break this post down into two different sections; practical and physical.

Practical – 

The practical is possibly the easiest to talk about. Included in this is packing a hospital/NICU bag, planning freezer meals, researching what one will need specifically for a c-section recovery, finding out about the hospital’s protocols for c-section mamas, and so on.

Let’s talk about packing that hospital bag first! I am planning on having my bag packed by 34ish weeks. Even though I will have an actual date for my c-section, knowing my body AND that we’ll be in the middle of Colorado winter (lots of rising pressure, which increases my braxton hicks, and I had started dilating a good bit by the time I was 36 weeks with Little Monkey), I want my bag packed as early as I can get it done. As labor is not an option for me anymore, I want to be able to just go if anything happens before the scheduled date.

A hospital bag list is something that Pinterest is an amazing resource for. I have found several specific pins for c-section recovery hospital bags and from those pins this is the list that I’ve put together. (it is subject to change as I start packing and decide what I really want to have with me or could do without)

C-Section/NICU stay Hospital Bag

  • pineapple juice
  • coconut water
  • GF muffins/snacks
  • Motrin
  • GasX strips
  • Cough medicine
  • cough/throat drops
  • colace
  • Vitamins – probiotics, cal/mag, prenatal
  • ice packs
  • kotex maxi pads
  • low rise underwear
  • regular pillow
  • body pillow
  • Nursing pillow
  • comfy blanket
  • towel
  • robe
  • Sweatshirts
  • 3 night gowns
  • 3-5 nursing bras (pack different kinds)
  • Nursing tank tops – all of them
  • 2 tops to wear over tanks
  • Navel and Blanqi Postpartum leggings
  • yoga pants
  • fuzzy socks
  • slippers
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, styling products, bar soap, puff, shaving cream, razor, loofah, face wipes, coconut oil, toothbrush/paste…)
  • Makeup bag
  • Hairdryer/straightener
  • Kindle
  • portable keyboard for taking notes on kindle
  • Charging block
  • Chargers for Iphone
  • Extension cord
  • insurance cards
  • hospital paperwork (both insurance and paperwork need their own folder)

Now my list above combines some of the things I will also need for the NICU stay as well. I will list my NICU Survival List down below as well. Some of these items, like ice packs, Motrin, and the toiletries are the things that are the eh maybe I won’t need them, I’ll decide last minute items. But, they are things I do want to make sure I have, whether the hospital provides them or not. As I’ve had the benefit (I suppose) of having gone through one birth already, I do remember what worked and didn’t work last time. Even though this time will be different, it helps that I am not starting from scratch.

Alright, so here are a few of the pins I pulled ideas from for the hospital bag list.

One of the things that I have found helpful is to take advantage of the knowledge from mamas I know who have had c-sections. If you have resources like that, use them!! They’re going to be the ones who can tell you specifically what helped them or didn’t help with c-section recovery. The same goes for if you will be needing to stay with baby while they’re in the NICU. Use your resources!

Now with my NICU Survival List, I have mostly relied on Pinterest for this list. I do know a few mamas who have had babies in the NICU, so I will be running this list by them as we get close to DD (Delivery Day) to make sure I’m not missing anything.

NICU Survival Kit

  • Chapstick – LOTS of chapstick
  • Cough/throat drops
  • hand lotion
  • hand sanitizer
  • Easy to carry notebook
  • pens – at least 6
  • Kind bars
  • yogurt
  • bananas
  • granola
  • kettle chips
  • nursing pillow
  • breast pump
  • freemie attachment
  • labels and markers for making bottles
  • nursing pads
  • robe
  • water bottle
  • baby lotion (find organic lotion…maybe california baby?)
  • 1-2 special outfits for little bear – specifically with snaps
  • laundry bag
  • bottles (figure out what bottle would be best)
  • coconut oil
  • 2-3 changes of clothes
  • baby nail clippers
  • inexpensive camera for nurses to take pictures with?

Like I said, multiple things overlap with each list, so I will most likely combine them into two bags when I head to the hospital. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in my room before I’m discharged and I move over to the NICU rooms. That’ll depend on c-section recovery and such. Here are a few of the pins I pulled NICU list tips from.

Feel free to take a look around my Mama Advice and Prepping for Little Bear boards. I have a bunch of other pins that I have found helpful on there!

As packing a hospital/NICU bag is a very practical thing to do, that’s a huge thing I’m focusing on right now even though I feel like I’m in limbo still. However, a hospital bag is only part of the practical things I can do to keep my hands busy. Another suggestion is planning out freezer meals! I did a few before Little Monkey was born, but those meals kind of flopped and we never ended up using them. Because I know what DIDN’T work for us last time, I am being quite particular planning freezer meals this time around. A few big changes for us since last time is my diet is gluten free and there are a few other foods I can’t eat because of my IBS as well as my fibromyalgia. Thankfully, I have found several phenomenal lists [on Pinterest] for GF freezer meals! I will be combining several recipes from these lists and hope to start prepping those come January.

Even though that last pin are not specifically GF meals, the techniques and recipes are simple enough to adapt for a GF version.

When I have my delivery planning meeting (yes, apparently this is a thing at our Children’s), I will be bringing a list of questions about the c-section itself, a procedure I will be having done during the c-section, and then what their protocols are for mamas after the surgery is done. That meeting is where I’ll also find out about the things available to me while I am in the hospital as well as getting to tour the facilities (recovery rooms and the NICU). After that meeting I will go back over my hospital bag list and add or take away anything I know I won’t need.

Physical 

Planning and preparing physically for a c-section is a little bit more involved and yet is almost nothing compared to planning practically! This is the area I have had the hardest time “coping” with. With a planned c-section you literally just show up and get prepped then go back for the surgery. A little bit more complicated than that, but that’s basically it! I don’t get increasingly nervous when I have knowledge of something like that happening beforehand. The idea and prospect of going in for the c-section is not what is making me feel overwhelmed or shaky. It’s the whole chaos of what’s going to happen after that makes me tear up, have nightmares about, and I already know I’m going to be a wreck when they take little bear to the NICU while I’m still on the table getting put back together.

However, I have put together a short list of the things I can do now to prep physically for the c-section. I am worried about my gut health/immune system AFTER the c-section, so I going to keep up with my kombucha tea, and in January, I will most likely start taking a probiotic as well to help keep my gut health strong. My body doesn’t usually have that much of an issue with antibiotics, but I don’t want to take chances, especially with what my body has been recovering from over the past year (unknown gluten intolerance discovered only a year ago, removal of gallbladder…).

I already have strong core muscles thanks to yoga and that being something I have been able to keep up with consistently. I am not really worried about how my abdominal muscles will recover post surgery, but I have added several core specific poses to my yoga routine. *it is important to note that core exercises while pregnant are not a good idea if you have diastasis recti (a separation in your ab muscles as your belly grows)* The core poses I have added are very gentle and are still yoga poses which means they’re done slowly, with care, and with attention to breathing. The article below is only one of two I found about preparing for a c-section.

After talking with a dear friend who’s had two c-sections this morning, I now have a game plan for the week before the c-section. But I’ll share that as we get closer to that date!

There really aren’t many things I can do to physically prepare besides the things I’ve listed above. The other things you/I can do between now and the c-section is just keep taking care of my body. I have to do yoga at least 1-3 times a week just to manage my fibromyalgia, but it is important to me to keep doing that as it is calming and gives me a way to manage stress and anxiety.

 

A Shifting Perspective

At the beginning of this pregnancy, I had this intense feeling that this pregnancy would be hard. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I just knew it would be a lot harder than Little Monkey’s. Sure enough, I hit 6 weeks, and HELLLLOOO nausea. That lasted, well, I’m still dealing with random nausea off and on and I’m 26 weeks today. Then at 16 weeks, I started bleeding from a placenta previa, which meant low activity levels for several weeks to give it a chance to shift. By 20 weeks, placenta previa was no longer an issue, but instead we were facing an entirely new set of difficulties.

My little bear has Spina Bifida, and that meant and entirely new perspective on this pregnancy. I went from preparing for what I had hoped would be a natural birth, working with midwives, a doula, to now a planned c-section at Children’s hospital, where my little bear will be taken directly to the NICU upon delivery. While I don’t have any issues with having a c-section, it’s the whole major shifting of what to expect with this pregnancy. Instead of going in for regular midwife appointments, I’ve had more ultrasounds than I can count, a fetal MRI, blood tests, an amniocentesis done, and there are still more tests and ultrasounds coming before he’s born. I am now the 1 in 1000 who’s baby has a serious condition. This has been hard, really hard with watching so many other friends around me carrying and delivering healthy babies. Babies they get to take home after 24-48 hours. Babies they get to snuggle and hold tight within seconds of being born. Babies who are whole, healthy, and dare I say, normal?

Sure, some days are a lot worse than others. Some days are actually okay days and I feel like I can manage without feeling like I’m drowning. The hardest part isn’t that I don’t think we’ll be able to do this, no that’s not it. I know we’re really going to be okay. Phil and I are in this together, we have a lot of support already, and I have the resources I need from moms who have gone before me in this specific journey. But there is a part of all of this that makes me feel very frustrated. I know there are other mamas out there who have gotten this same terrifying diagnoses. I know there are other mamas who have and will stand anxiously besides that NICU crib watching their newborn. We live in a culture that tries to silence the difficult. We live in a culture full of people who don’t want to face the hard, tearful stories of those who don’t have the same stories. Because of the culture we live in, I want to break the silence and really talk about what this has been like and what it’s going to be like finding out my son has a serious condition.

My depression has been hard over the past month. I already have an underlying depression that while I can manage it quite well, peaks every so often. With this whole shift in my pregnancy, well, let’s just say this is the highest it’s peaked in a long time. I have coping techniques, but when combined with the approaching third trimester fatigue, feeling like I’m drowning under the constant inflow of information, it’s been a bit much. The story of my life has never fit inside the “normal” box. I do not fit norms. I never have. And with this pregnancy, it is once again on the outside of those norms. When mentioning this to my mentor, her response was to tell me that maybe I’m supposed to go against the norms in order to create new norms. So maybe that’s my job in this life. That’s what I’m called to do.

I’m hoping over the coming months as I start to prepare for the planned c-section and the following who-knows-how-long NICU stay, I will be able to share things that are helping me. For now, I am clinging to movement little bear has in the womb, and the fact that I already feel a deep, strong connection to him. I still have days where I wake up and hope this is all a dream, but it isn’t, and I will face whatever may come.