Ah, postpartum! A time of great upheaval in a woman's body and in her mind and in her family and in every other facet of life. A time of rejoicing like none other, mixed with sudden weeping that can make a woman question whether she is going absolutely batty! A time when the simple act of taking a shower can do a lot to make a woman feel human and normal again; but when the shower is done, she finds herself leaking fluid from multiple sources and has to ask herself whether she should grab a towel to dry her dripping hair first or a tissue to dry her dripping eyes (because the shower is a pretty perfect place for a good cry), and whether she should wipe her nose next or reach for the breast pads (because that cold air after the warm water has triggered a let-down reflex and milk is now in danger of being sprayed across the room), and I won't even talk about...ahem...the other area that's dripping (one word to make men be glad they're men: lochia). ;-) Oh, yes. If pregnancy is a glamorous time in a woman's life, the postpartum time is...NOT. :)
In years past, I have often had a day--usually five or six days after giving birth--when the tidal wave of hormones swept over me and the floodgates of my tear ducts opened and my emotions spewed forth in a geyser-like eruption. On days like that, if I could manage it, I ran away to the privacy of my bedroom and tucked myself and the baby into bed to cry in peace and and then sleep before awakening a more even-keeled woman.
But this time, I don't think I had a day like that. Instead, I experienced a slow seepage of tears on multiple occasions. During a number of days, I felt like my tears were just under the surface, covered by a very shallow layer of self-control, but waiting to leak out if I let go for a moment. Sometimes I did let go--not that I wanted to--but more times, I held the tears back and swallowed the lump in my throat. Knowing that all the ups and downs and highs and lows were a regular part of this postpartum period helped me to keep a more balanced perspective on the things I was feeling. I knew, without a doubt, "this too shall pass."
When I think back over the past month and a half, I mentally divide this postpartum experience into three parts: the first six days of initial adjustment, the next three and a half weeks when Jeff's mom was here and was so helpful in handling many household tasks and caring for the other children so I could have extra time to rest and focus on Benjamin, and then the week and a half since then.
During the first phase, I was enjoying the bliss of getting to know Benjamin, and was just trying to figure out what life with a newborn--as well as five other children--was going to look like. Physically, I bounced back fairly quickly; but for the first two or three days, I was having really challenging uterine contractions while nursing. That didn't surprise me, but I was certainly relieved when by Wednesday, September 16, they had mostly disappeared. Contractions that precede the birth of a baby, while perhaps not being exactly classified as "fun," are definitely a lot more enjoyable since they lead to such a happy conclusion; but postpartum contractions? There's just not much good to be said about them. ;-)
My other pain came from breastfeeding; and like with all my other children, the pain I experienced while nursing was, shall we say, significant. If you could have seen the grimaces on my face and heard my labored breathing and watched me curl my toes from the pain, you might think the word "significant" was an understatement. ;-) I don't know why it's been that way for me every time; but I'm grateful that in the overall scheme of things, the pain doesn't last too long. Now that I'm six weeks into it, I rarely have real pain; and if I do, it's only when Benjamin latches on, and it doesn't persist more than about 30 seconds or so. But realistically, I think even that pain mostly disappeared by the time he was about a month old.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me this time around was that my weight dropped quite rapidly. In fact, by September 23, when Benjamin was 10 days old, my weight was back down from my high of 190 pounds to 164 pounds, which is where it was when this pregnancy started. It dropped so fast that, probably for the first time in my life, I was actually concerned about losing weight too fast; normally, that's just not a problem I have! ;-) When I saw what was happening, I realized that maybe I should be eating more, since I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize my milk supply. Life was so busy at that point that sometimes I didn't take the time to really sit down and eat; but after that, I started paying more attention to ensure that I consumed enough calories to make enough milk. As it turned out, I needn't have been particularly concerned, since my weight hasn't significantly dropped further. As time goes by, I do want to lose more weight but do it mostly for the purpose of being stronger and healthier. Losing 22 pounds would get me to my pre-Josiah weight of 142, but whether that particular number ever again appears on my scale remains to be seen. If not, the sun will still rise each day, and I'll still feel pretty happy with life. :)
Some of the things that helped the most during this postpartum adjustment were the meals that were brought to us (we were SO blessed by this; I hope to do a blog post soon about the kindness we were shown by so many people), the assistance of Jeff's mom who was always willing to be a second set of helping hands (I'd also like to do a blog post about this! I never run out of ideas for what to write about) :), the extra sleep I got because of her being here, and most of all, the phenomenal way that Jeff stepped in and helped out.
I knew he would. :) He always does; but with each birth, there's something a little unique about that particular time. Of course he does the obvious, like helping Moriah get ready for bed when I'm busy nursing Benjamin; but one time (I believe it was after Tobin was born), his special way of caring for Josiah and David involved telling them stories--most of them he had made up about a group of rabbits. As a matter of fact, he even printed out some of those stories; they're around here somewhere! ;-) Josiah and David, who were 5 and 2 years old at the time, would wait all day to hear the next story about those bunnies; and Jeff's imagination made that a fun, memorable time for them while I was preoccupied with their little brother.
This time, I noticed two things in particular that Jeff did to care for the older children. One was taking them on fun outings (for example, he took them out to Country Cookin' for lunch one day--one dad, five kids, in a buffet restaurant--who's ready to nominate him for Dad of the Year?) :) which gave me the gift of space and time alone with Benjamin--a much-appreciated gift! And the other unique aspect of Jeff's involvement this time was glow sticks! Yes, those cool little plastic tubes that you bend and then watch as the chemical reaction happens and they begin to glow fluorescent. Nearly every night, after the kids were ready for bed, Jeff would let them each have a glow stick, something they got really excited about. A bribe? Maybe! But I prefer the term "reward." :) In all seriousness, it was well worth purchasing a bunch of glow sticks at the dollar store so that the kids could have a treat at the end of the day. And what's more, it made a memory--so much so that I will likely, from here on, always equate glow sticks with Benjamin's birth. :)
It's not unusual for Jeff to interact creatively with our children--he's a very involved dad after all--but the fact that he was even more involved than normal with the other kids did so much to make the adjustment to having six children manageable for me. I'm so grateful for his partnership!!
Now that Benjamin is six weeks old, we've come a long way towards finding our new groove. In years past, I've known that I was "back" (after being away in postpartum la-la land for a while!) when I caught myself looking around the house and considering what small home improvement project I might imagine myself embarking on in the relatively near future--a new paint color for some room, or a rearrangement of furniture, or a flower bed that needed overhauling, etc. It's not that I always actually did those projects; but when I found myself thinking about them, I realized that I was over the hump of initial adjustment.
This time was a little different. Rather than thinking so much about our home, I discovered I was thinking beyond our home to other people. For example, on the way home from our Sunday church service last week, we were talking about how so many people had been especially nice to us after Benjamin's birth; and Jeff brought up the question, "What if we made it a point to be extra nice to someone every week?" He didn't phrase it quite that way, but that's how I heard it. :) A month prior, I would have felt completely overwhelmed by that and would likely have had to choke back tears because I would have seen myself as a failure (just tellin' it like it is, folks, and if you've ever been a hormonal woman wading through the murky postpartum waters, you'll probably understand!); but a week ago, I was ready to hear that. It inspired me so much that this week, I prepared dinner on Wednesday and we took it to a family who just had a baby, we had some friends over for dinner and games last evening, and this evening we plan to go visit another friend in the hospital. It's been a joy to do those things! During the first part of this postpartum time, it would not have been a joy; in fact, during the end of the pregnancy, it would not have been a joy either! ;-) But now, my vision which was clouded by baby fog is clearing, and I'm lifting my eyes to look beyond the four walls of my house. Oh, there still are--and will be--times when I circle the wagons, ignore the demands from the outside, and focus more intensely on myself and my family. And I'm sure there will still be times when my emotions are more pronounced than usual and I wonder how I can ever handle being a mom to six. But during this past week, feeling the energy and desire to look beyond the immediate needs around me made me feel like the wave has been crested and I'm back to being myself again. I'll enjoy riding this wave while it lasts! ;-)
This post is long enough so I'll go ahead and publish it, but in the next one (hopefully) I'll write a little more about the spiritual and mental aspects of the last six weeks. For now, here are some photos from when Benjamin was four weeks old. This was, I believe, his first time on this playmat; and I loved seeing the enjoyment he got from it. The colors! The textures! The movement! How exciting! :)
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is a wonderful way to live. :)