Before I share anything ahead, know this: I am so grateful! I am going to share some of the challenges of the postpartum period, but I know these are so small in the big picture. I praise God for my family, and at the same time, the weeks after baby were (and still are) challenging. I know the same is true for many women! We are so grateful for our families, and yet feel like we can’t talk about the hard times. Let’s not feel isolated and alone. Let’s see God at work, even in the messy stuff, and not feel like we have to keep the hard things bottled inside. So, as you read my experiences, know that I recognize that these are light and momentary troubles. The Lord is good. Okay, onto the mess!
A timeline: The first four weeks after Joshua’s birth were rough, as they are for most women. I was in survival mode. Between the lack of sleep and my body and hormones, it felt… well, the only word I can think of is “yuk.” Very descriptive, right? ; ) Weeks five and six were equally messy, but my body started to heal and hormones began to figure out where they belonged. Weeks seven and eight, while I had some complications (more on that in a minute), I began to come out of the woods. Today, at week nine, while sleep hasn’t changed much (I’m feeding J 3-5 times a night), I don’t feel the “yuk,” and for that I am grateful! In this post you’ll find more on recovery from the “yuk,” life with my two little redheads, postpartum emotions, the time I thought I ran over a bunny (get ready for this one—Ari said I had to share), maternity leave blunders, and a few helpful tips! Even if you aren’t expecting, I hope this post encourages you. We’re going to go in chronological order, but feel free to jump to any section that interests you.
I wrote this during several quick nap breaks, so forgive typos and short sentences!
Marriage matters most: One quick thought before we move on to life after baby! It is wise to prepare for birth through classes and great books, but the number one thing that will prepare you well–besides a close relationship and trust in the Lord–is a close relationship with your husband. Spending intentional time together, having fun, sharing your deepest heart longings, and praying together about you birth experience (so helpful) before baby comes is the best advice I can give you. When labor begins and your expected “birth plan” goes out the window, what you will have left is your trust in the Lord and the strength of your marriage bond. Do whatever it takes to love your husband and cultivate that connection. This will also help postpartum in the sleepless nights ahead! Pray together a lot, even when you’re so tired that you feel like you can’t make complete sentences (happened a lot here!).
Recovery in the Hospital: Our time in the hospital after J was born was better than our experience with Grace because we knew to expect several things: little sleep, lots of night time interruptions from hospital staff, and all kinds of humility-inducing experiences for mama. (One word: padsicles.) I knew this time that my body would feel broken and weak. I knew nursing would wear me out for the first days. And I knew it wouldn’t be that way forever, though. Some tips below.
– What I didn’t expect: being SO hungry! I could have eaten the entire buffet at Whole Foods. The morning after J’s birth, my mom brought me a huge sandwich. Ate that. Ate oatmeal. Cookies. More cookies. Tons of water. Another sandwich. I. Was. Hungry! I had the workout of my life pushing a baby out, but wow. Ladies, if you get that hungry too after birth, don’t fear. Just eat! Your body needs good fuel, so listen to it.
J’s first bath : )
– Bring comfortable but “normal” clothes to the hospital! I brought a shirt from Walk in Love and some comfortable cotton pants from Walmart. With Grace, I brought clothes I could have tossed had they gotten soiled, but this time it was so helpful for me to wear clothes that made me feel good postpartum. I certainly wouldn’t bring anything you wouldn’t be okay with getting dirty, but bring clothes that make you feel good. Oh, and you’ll still be in maternity clothes for several weeks. I still don’t fit into regular pants yet at 9 weeks postpartum and I’m okay with that!
– Bring snacks! Refer back to the previous point about being so hungry : ) On that note, your tastebuds may completely change postpartum. Mine have with both kids. I craved very specific things before birth, and then after I wanted totally different things.
– I brought my own pillows and a giant beach towel. Hospitals have small towels and hospitals are cold, so bring a big towel. Be sure your pillows are in a case other than white so the hospital doesn’t mistake them for theirs.
– Don’t commit to visitors in the hospital until after baby comes as you may not be up for it! We had Grace, my mom, Rhiannon, and a couple friends stop by. That was plenty.
– Bring a sleep mask and ear plugs. For real. Just do it. Nap when you can in the hospital.
Postpartum recovery in a hospital is different for everyone, but we knew from previous experience that we wanted to be discharged as soon as possible. All those nighttime nurse visits and hospital personnel and lactation consultants and a photographer selling newborn sessions and various non-medical things can leave you weary. So, we prayed that God would let us just stay one night and then go home. He answered. We did all the things—testing and more testing, blood samples, birth certificate–and went home after 24 hours. This was taken right when we arrived home from the hospital. I was so happy to be home!
Maternity leave: I naively thought I wouldn’t need much maternity leave. I don’t know what made me think this! I think I even said to Emily at one point that I might just take a few days. !?!??? Apparently, it’s easy to forget how hard the early days are with a baby. The week after J was born, I came to my senses and knew I would need as much as possible. We changed the work schedule here (our office is the second story of our house) so the ladies were here minimally in the first weeks, and I changed my email auto reply. I followed Nancy’s example and decided to not answer business email for the entirety of my 12 week leave. It gets deleted unless it’s from my team or something urgent. I’m on maternity leave until November and then on “book leave” after that to write book 2, which is due February 1. And then… on maternity leave again for our adoption that will, Lord willing, happen shortly after. So, my inbox won’t be getting a lot of attention for the next 6-8 months!
Social media: Along with this, I intentionally decided to delete the social media apps on my phone. It’s too easy to scroll through mindlessly when you are exhausted, and all that scrolling somehow leaves you more unsettled, so I have chosen to read a book or pray instead. This is good for me and my family, so it hasn’t been hard to do. Selfishly, I want to delete my accounts altogether. But, I feel that the Lord has purposed them for something. I don’t know exactly what yet. I’m still praying on it all.
On to physical recovery at home!
Sleep: First, (and please don’t tune this advice out because you have heard it before) sleep when the baby sleeps. Get help from friends to watch your older child if you have one. Ask someone else to load the dishwasher. Be humble and ask for help so you can sleep. Now, this advice is coming from someone who did none of these things the first time around. And if you remember what my doc said to me about my postpartum depression with Grace, it rhymes with sheep. This was hard for me to do this time but I knew it would affect everything else. So, I would let grandma or a friend or Rhiannon take Grace out somewhere and I attempted to nap. I’m not a very skilled napper but earplugs, a sleep mask, letting J nap right next to me, and a lot of prayer helped. Even if I didn’t actually fall asleep (happened often), laying down to let my body rest for a few minutes was good. Do whatever you can to rest when baby rests during the day.
Diastasis NOT rectified: This time around, I have diastasis recti (abdominal separation). This is caused by the stretching of my abs during pregnancy and also likely because I did zero abdominal exercises for the last four years before I had J. The former personal trainer in me is hanging her head low on that one. So, I still look pregnant. I am currently wearing an abdominal binder and waiting to see if this heals.
Uterine pain: I had a lot of uterine pain postpartum and regularly took Motrin. A mama friend here warned me about the second baby uterine pain before I had J, and she was right! It felt like painful cramps. This lasted for about 4 weeks and then tapered off completely at 6 weeks.
Night sweats: The worst recovery symptom of all for me (which I also had with Grace) was night sweats. Oh, night sweats! This started at 4 days postpartum and lasted for three full weeks. It. Was. Awful. I slept on towels and had to change my pillowcase every day. I would wake up in the middle of the night most nights and have to change my clothes. But, it did go away. To my friends going through menopause, I want to hug you!
Breastfeeding: I had a hard time feeding Grace in the early days. Nursing was painful. So painful I would cry every time. With Grace, I switched to pumping exclusively when she was about two weeks old. The Medela Symphony and I were BFF’s (Breastfeeding Friends for what felt like Forever) for 15 months. Grace took to bottles easy, which helped in a busy year with work. She took to the paci easily, which helped calm her. Every child is different, though. Joshua doesn’t like bottles or pacis. He won’t take them at all. He just likes mama. And, I’m okay with that right now. I read a great book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that helped take the pressure of of nursing and gave confidence to nurse exclusively. (Great book to read before baby too. Highly recommend! I wish I had read it before Grace.) Now, is exclusively nursing convenient for me? Yes and no. I do not miss the pump one bit, but exclusively nursing means I am with J all the time, and feeding when he is hungry. But, I believe this is exactly where God wants me right now. Grounded at home. In my nursing chair. Reading my Bible and some great books I’ve been learning from lately (more on that in a sec) praying a lot. I believe God has put me in a new season.
Nursing has had two challenges of note so far that I thought I’d share some thoughts on: protein intolerance and mastitis.
Dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, I’m hun-gry!: First, protein intolerance, also known as blood in J’s diapers because of something in my milk that he can’t digest well. After weeks of wondering why he had an awful rash on his face and wasn’t sleeping well—and then discovering the blood—the doc asked if I ate dairy. Yep. Lots of dairy. I’ve eaten the same breakfast for the last 15 years. For real. With the exception of maybe five mornings, I’ve had Jay Robb chocolate whey protein powder and oatmeal. Well, turns out that dairy is the #1 protein that babies can have trouble digesting. So, I cut out dairy. His rash went away, but the blood didn’t stop, so she asked if I ate soy. Yep. Love my Luna Bars. But, I had to give up soy too. So, now I am on a soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free (just in case!) diet and so far we have seen great improvement in him. It’s not the easiest diet to follow as there is soy and dairy and eggs hiding in tons of foods, but I’m making it work. If you have recipes, please share. This diet of just chicken and the occasional bite of fish gets old after a while!
Mastitis: This and the night sweats. I’ve had it three times in two months. It starts as tenderness in one breast and then suddenly I have a fever for 48 hours and can’t get out of bed. I have it right now, actually, but thanks to immediately taking antibiotics, I have passed the fever stage. My mom had it a lot while nursing me and my brother, and I already know I inherited her dense chest tissue and fibroids… an easy way to get a clogged milk duct and infection. I don’t have a whole lot to say about mastitis except it’s humbling and I am grateful for prayerful friends.
What I love about nursing: Being close to J all the time. Knowing that the Lord has me in this place for a reason. And I’ve been spending time praying and reading. Read: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It was, indeed, life-changing. We donated a garage full of stuff and the book changed my perspective. However, it’s wise to read it with a strong faith filter. Some of the book is not Biblical, so check your Bible as you read! Currently reading (and loving): FerVent, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith, and Women of the Word. The latter is excellent!
Postpartum depression: I had the baby blues on the expected days: day three and day seven postpartum. I cried a lot and felt very low on those days. There have been a lot of tears on tired days, and there have been lots of tired days. But, I did not experience the same postpartum depression feelings that I had with Grace. There were times I felt angry about life being such a mess and exhausted beyond words, but I was still able to see God at work. It has been refining. Like metal being shaped and refined in a fire to be used for something good. And it is good. I know that full well. This postpartum period has been a time of being humbled and surrendering.
Some advice for helping with all the feelings postpartum:
– If you feel hopeless, talk to God right away, and call your doctor. (Postpartum depression is very different than the baby blues.)
– Sleep when you can. Make that top priority.
– Get some exercise when your doc says it’s okay. I would just walk up and down my stairs a couple times at first, or walk around my culdesac. It wasn’t much but it made me feel better.
– Eat healthy food. You will need good fuel. I made the mistake of having jelly beans around late at night. Don’t do that. Sugar will slow you down. Stock your fridge with tons of fruit. I’ve also been drinking a lot of yummy herbal tea.
– Talk to friends. I am so grateful for the friends who have let me talk about not sleeping and kept my perspective on the right place: being grateful anyway.
– Take it easy. We have had to stop outings at night. This has been hard, as we love getting dinner with friends and spending time with church family. But, right now, for this short season, we try to be home by 7:30 at the latest. Otherwise, meltdowns ensue and we are all more tired because of it.
Life with two: Grace’s transition was a lot harder than we expected. She loved having a little brother, but it was hard to have her normal life routines shaken up. She was used to having lots of sweet quality time with me in the mornings to talk and play, and now I had to feed the baby and was a zombie. This was hard for both of us. The first couple weeks I was very sad about it. I mourned the loss of that sweet time and could tell Grace did too. But, we have found new ways to get time together. One thing we did it move some of her favorite toys into the living room so I could engage with her in conversation while she played and I nursed. That has been a huge help.
Tips on life with two:
– Get help with the older sibling, whether from grandma, friends, or professional childcare if you are able. Even a couple hours can make a world of difference and you will all be happier for it. Both my mom and Ari’s mom came to visit on weekends and that was huge to have a few days where someone else (who wasn’t sleep-deprived) was loving on Grace so that Ari and I could get a couple minutes together.
– Keep the older sibling busy in the early weeks. Grace happened to start preschool a few weeks after J was born and that was a lifesaver! She felt like she had her own thing and looked forward to time out of the house. It has been so good. I am still planning to homeschool her in the near future, but for now we love her new teachers and classmates and what she’s learning. Can you tell she was excited about her first day of school above? And can you tell we all love our Walk in Love shirts!? : )
– Let the older sibling have individual quality time with everyone in the house, including the baby.
– Some great advice from my friend Emily Hansel: help the older sibling voice their feelings of frustration. I tell Grace often that sometimes being a big sister is hard and that’s okay. I was a big sis once too and it was hard at times, but then it got fun!
– See that beautiful smiling lady above? This gal. I praise Him for her! She doesn’t just help me with Grace and Joshua, but she has become one of my closest friends. We pray together, laugh together, nurture together, and she even helped me create the Write the Word journals! Growing closer with Rhiannon during these nine weeks has been a blessing. I am no super mom. It takes a lot to run our household with an office of women inside of it too, so I need this gal. Right now, Rhiannon takes care of shuffling Grace around to preschool and various activities during the week, and I’m with Joshua full time and with Grace too in the afternoons. I’m not totally sure how I’m going to write a book with a baby in my arms all day, but I’m putting that in the Lord’s hands!
I love this picture Rhiannon took of Grace more than words!
That time I thought I ran over a bunny: So, this was not funny at the time it happened. There is an adorable little bunny that has visited our garden all summer and fall. He’s so cute. One night, Ari and I were in separate cars because he went to get his mom from the airport and I had to bring G + J to meet them for dinner. Joshua does not like the car, so on the way home, he wailed the entire time. I have a hard time focusing when he is upset, so I was trying my best to drive carefully and not have a meltdown myself. I prayed and God said, “Don’t be anxious, Lara.” I didn’t listen, and pulled into my driveway faster than usual. I saw my bunny friend dart in front of the car. Thump. I instantly started crying. I didn’t care what the neighbors thought of me and my son wailing together. I felt awful. Ari pulled up into the driveway just as I got out of my car with J. I didn’t want to see the bunny so I ran inside. I cried and cried. This was four weeks postpartum and I sat there a mess of emotions.
The next morming, I didn’t even want to look out the living room window. “Ari, you go. Go see if it’s there.” Bless his soul, he walked outside and returned to inform me that there was no sign of the bunny. He must have been hurt and limped off into the bushes.
Three days later, we pulled in from being at church and, low and behold, out hops my little bunny friend–happy as can be, injury-free! It was a clear message from the Lord: do not worry, Lara. No matter what. Do not be anxious for anything. I cried again in relief and praised Him!
Why do I tell you this story? Because that’s what God has been teaching me. In the sleepless nights and fevers and times I didn’t think I could do another day on two hours of sleep, He whispers: Do not worry, for I am with you. Do not worry, for I have better plans than yours. Do not worry about your momentary troubles. They are so very small. Eternity is where I want your focus. Do not worry, little one. I have you in my arms always. I am in this.
I have so much more to share that God is doing in my heart, but I want to live it before I talk about it.
Up next: Baby things we have appreciated, and more on my next book and our adoption. I’m currently typing this last paragraph with one hand and it’s time to go feed the little guy again! Hi, friends!
Your turn! Have any dairy/soy/egg free recipes to share? Have you felt similar things postpartum? Any advice on writing a book with a baby in your arms? What has God been teaching you lately? I’d love to hear from you!
In case you missed it: Sharing the news that we were unexpectedly expecting and choosing his name, Joshua’s birth story, and Nancy’s post and perspective on Joshua’s birth.
This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. Any proceeds will go to Love One Another Project!