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The Challenges of the Fourth Trimester

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The Challenges of the Fourth Trimester

 My name is Annette and I am a mom to a beautiful 12-week-old baby girl. My journey to motherhood was not an easy one. We tried for four years before getting pregnant. By this point, I had gotten used to so much disappointment that when I actually got pregnant, I didn’t allow myself to enjoy it. It wasn’t until midway through my second trimester where it finally felt real and permanent. Thankfully, my struggles evaporated and became a chapter in my life filed under “difficult time” as I moved on to a new chapter full of joy, excitement and lots of PINK! We were having a girl! I was overjoyed! I didn’t take one minute of it for granted. I thanked God every night that this was finally happening for us. The morning sickness, back pain and swelling were badges of honor I wore proudly.

She arrived on a beautiful Monday afternoon in May. She was perfect and amazing, and I couldn’t believe the little human I carried for 40 weeks was finally in my arms.

But as soon as we returned back home from the hospital, the exhaustion became REAL and there were a whole new set of challenges I was dealing with:

PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT AFTER BIRTH. I read tons of birth stories online and talked to women about their labor but I was surprised to learn that people neglect to talk about what comes after childbirth!! I had a natural delivery and pushed for about 50 minutes (very short in comparison to a lot of women) and when I look back, the delivery was nothing compared to what came after. I ended up getting an episiotomy which meant stitches and a painful recovery. Every time I sneezed, coughed, laughed, peed, etc.—it hurt (by the way, hats off to you if you had a C-section because the recovery is much worse!). There is also A LOT of blood. I did not expect to have my heaviest period x 100 for weeks on end (about 4 weeks). Also, every time I breastfed, my uterus contracted—an excruciating pain I can only compare to labor contractions. This went on for about two weeks. Which leads me to my next point…

BREASTFEEDING. [Side note: My mom never breastfed so she had no idea what to expect or how to guide me on this. I also had taken a pre-natal breastfeeding class and was still nowhere near prepared for any of this. ]

Breastfeeding has been the most challenging part of motherhood for me so far. It’s my Everest! At the beginning, she wasn’t latching correctly, or I wasn’t positioning her properly—probably both, so it was incredibly painful. I would dread every feeding. I knew something was not right. It shouldn’t hurt this much.

I didn’t know it at the time, but when I left the hospital and in the days after, my breasts were fully engorged. I didn’t even know what that meant three months ago. Imagine hooking a balloon onto the spout of your kitchen sink and then turning on the water and letting that balloon fill and fill and fill until the balloon is at capacity and it’s about to explode. In this case, the balloon is your breast and the water is your milk. I couldn’t even softly touch my boobs without feeling pain so imagine a baby latching onto the nipple. The pressure hurt so bad. I was producing way more than she could drink. And as it turns out, this was not normal.

When she was 5 days old, I hit a wall during a 5 am feeding. She was crying out of what I can only assume was hunger, and I was crying out of frustration, exhaustion and crashing hormones. I took her off my breast and noticed blood and a scab in her mouth. I flipped out. I told my husband to grab the formula because I couldn’t handle this anymore. I fed her the bottle and was ready to throw in the towel when a few minutes later I got a text from my friend Maggie. (I also reached out to a lactation consultant, but it was the weekend and I hadn’t gotten a response yet so THANK GOD FOR MAGGIE).

Maggie, a fellow mom, was awake with her 5-month-old and wanted to check in to see how I was doing. My response must have sounded so desperate that she didn’t even bother to text me back and instead Facetimed me. I picked up the call hesitantly because I didn’t want her to see me sobbing (not to mention, I looked like death since I hadn’t slept in a week). I told her what happened and how I was feeling and she cried with me. She told me it would get better and that she wanted to help. She had breastfed her first child for 20 months and now her 5-month-old, so to me, she was an expert. She insisted on coming over even though I repeatedly told her not to; I felt so humbled she would even offer. She was a full-time working mom and it was a Saturday so I didn’t want her to waste her precious time with her two babies and her husband on me.

Nevertheless, Maggie selflessly appeared a few hours later with a bag of tricks. She brought overnight oats, which is breastfeeding superfood (look up recipes on Pinterest!), and a bag of sterilized pumping contraptions I had never seen or heard of (now of which I all own). Oh, and she was wearing her 5-month-old, baby June, like a little kangaroo. She walked in and looked at me and my breasts and said, “honey, this is not ok.” Finally, I had validation for the pain I felt!

Maggie went into triage mode and gave working orders to everyone in the house. She had my husband running to and from the kitchen throwing hot compresses in the microwave and bringing them over to me to place on my breasts. She introduced me to the Haakaa (definitely buy one if you’re going to BF) and placed this suction pump on my breasts. And slowly but surely milk started dripping into the reservoir. After filling the Haaka completely with milk, I still felt no relief. My breasts still felt like those full water balloons. So we turned to the hand pump. Maggie came from behind me and pretty aggressively massaged my boobs while I pumped—something I didn’t have the guts to do myself since it hurt so bad. What you'll learn is that, as a mother, you lose all sense of modesty after birth. A large part of my family and friends have now seen my boobs, so if you come visit me, know that you're going to see them. So having Maggie massage them wasn't all so shocking. Except for the pain. I literally felt like I was going to pass out during this process. But after that I could tell that “the girls” were finally starting to lose some of that volume. But, to my dismay,  they were still not empty so Maggie suggested we graduate to the electric pump.

The electric pump was incredibly uncomfortable—I felt like a farm animal being milked by a machine. I sat in silence, and by the end, I had pumped about 15 ounces of colostrum and milk in the 4 hours Maggie was at my house. This is A LOT. (Colostrum is liquid gold! I froze it and can use it as an antibiotic whenever Tessi gets sick!) It goes to show how engorged I was. And then, finally, the moment of truth, we put my daughter on my breast. Relief came over me—even though the latch still hurt, most of the pressure had been released.

That day, Maggie became my breastfeeding fairy godmother. She saved me and she continues to encourage me daily. After that episode, I’ve continued to struggle -- more engorgement, clogged ducts and blisters, the list goes on. But thankfully, I’ve found the right resources to get me through it (shout out to my friend Laura and a.k.a. the breastfeeding bible and of course Maggie! ).

Maggie, Baby June and Baby Teresa and me on the day Maggie saved me.

Twelve weeks have gone by and breastfeeding has finally gotten easier. I stuck with it only because I’ve had a lot of support. We’ve been going to a lactation support group every Tuesday since she was born held at Mercy Hospital. It’s free and led by a really great lactation nurse. Moms appear with their babies and throughout the session, you nurse, ask questions and share experiences. It’s great to interact with other moms going through the exact same phase as you, and it’s just great to get out of the house! I have also met some pretty amazing people.   

WORRIES AND ANXIETY. I always imagined maternity leave to be filled with leisure lunches with baby and friends, lots of Netflix marathons and pushing a stroller around the block with a Starbucks cup in hand while power-walking to get that pre-pregnancy bod back. Wrong! The days go by quickly and you realize you’ve done nothing except feed, burp, clean diapers/spit-up, put her down for a nap, pump, and repeat, over and over again. And as the days go by and you start to get to know your baby, you begin to stress about things you didn’t even know you could stress about.

Is my baby getting enough milk? Is my baby gaining enough weight? Why did my baby’s poop change from yellow to green? Is she getting enough hind milk (google fore milk/hind milk imbalance for more on that)? Why is she so fussy in the afternoons? Does my baby have thrush? Is her head getting flat? When should I introduce the pacifier? Is she too dependent on the pacifier now? Is she having nipple confusion? 

And you will find yourself getting lost in the black hole that is the internet while everyone else sleeps, or calling or frequently visiting your pediatrician. Because you love this little baby more than you ever thought your heart could even handle – so, naturally, you want your child to be healthy, strong, smart, social, etc. and you will obsess over making sure your child is all of these things, and you’ll blame yourself if they are not.

I guess what I would have told my newborn mom-self and what I’ll try to continue to tell myself is: Take it one day at a time. This too shall pass. You will get over this challenge. Know that another one will arise, and you’ll get over that one too. You are doing a great job, keep it up!

I’ve learned that moms deal with a host of different challenges, which is why everyone is constantly telling you not to compare yourself to other moms or compare your baby to other babies. While I’m dealing with engorgement, there’s a newborn mom whose baby doesn’t sleep, or who is dealing with projectile vomit, or real medical issues! We all have a different cross to bear. And you don’t have to do it alone. There’s a great mom tribe out there and tons of resources (mommy support groups and blogs like this one!) and so many mothers who are eager to help. I’ve received such caring and encouraging messages from friends who have been in my shoes. They say women are so judgmental and hard on each other, but I’ve felt a lot of love and kindness from my fellow moms. Thank you, ladies, and I will certainly pay it forward. 





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