Postpartum Help

The first three months postpartum are often referred to as the “fourth trimester.” During this time, you are undergoing a steep learning curve in parenting and getting to know the latest addition to your family. It is a Sisyphean cycle of feeding, changing diapers, napping, and figuring out which of the above is needed when the little one is crying for the umpteenth time.

We are fortunate to have so many family members and friends offering to help during this chaotic period. We are also blessed with a baby who is mostly easygoing. His fussy moments have been few and relatively quick to resolve, he nurses efficiently, and he naps for one to three hours the rest of the time. He only wakes up twice in the middle of the night, and usually falls back asleep quickly. Of course, it hasn’t all been smiles and snoozes. We have had some trying stretches of cluster feeding (when a baby feeds in short bursts or constantly, for hours) and baffling inconsolableness. But for the most part, the fourth trimester hasn’t been the utter hell for which I had braced myself, so we haven’t needed much help from others.

Well, we haven’t needed much of the type of help that most people offer or expect to provide to new parents, such as:

  • Food delivery. I had prepared several freezer meals, and we had gone to Costco prior to our kid’s birth to get more stuff that wouldn’t expire until February or March. At the beginning, my mother dropped off so much food that some didn’t even fit in our refrigerator. A lot of it ended up in the trash. I hate wasting food, so this gave me more stress than it alleviated. Now we are getting tight on freezer space, too, because so much of it is going toward milk storage. We’ve had to tell both sides of the family to ease up. Anyway, with all this newborn nap time and my husband doing the grocery runs, I am still able to cook my own food.
  • Groceries and other errands. My husband does these. However, we did have to ask my mother-in-law to pick up a few items from Costco.
  • Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc. My husband does these, as well. If needed, I can throw in a load before feeding the baby. By the time it’s done and needs to be hung to dry, the kid is fast asleep again. (People without an in-unit washer and dryer: how do you live?!) I also do a lot of miscellaneous cleanup.

Just as Liz Lemon wishes men at bars would offer food instead of drinks, I wish it were socially acceptable to request a different type of help. The above are basic tasks. What I would really appreciate is handling of more “strategic projects,” i.e., homeowner responsibilities we’ve put off embarrassingly long because of the research and/or effort required:

  • Re-grouting and re-caulking the shower. Do I have to pry off all the tiles and existing caulk first? I’ll probably need to buy some tools, right? Sounds hard. Are there any caveats I should know?
  • Deep-cleaning the bathrooms. Just takes so much time.
  • Getting all the cat hair off our clothes and blanket. There is an awful lot of cat hair on an awful lot of clothes.
  • Dropping off a stack of clothes, shoes, and books at a donation center. It’s not really on the way to anything else for us (though it’s not really far, either). I tried a pick-up service once, but I don’t think those are a good idea because everyone struggles to find my building. I fear a neighbor may have thrown my bag of clothes in the Dumpster that one time.
  • Investigation of whether we have a roach problem, and any follow-up actions needed. Ideally, we’d resolve this ourselves without resorting to calling an exterminator.
  • Seeing if anything needs to be done to optimize the dryer and the piping under the kitchen sink. I think the dryer needs water in a duct? And why does the sink sometimes get backed up, especially when we run the dishwasher?
  • Purchase and assembly of a new dresser, and disposal of our old one. My husband is actually willing to do this, but I would prefer to see the previous items completed first.
  • Installation of a fancy toilet seat from my mother (the best gifts are ones that require you to do work, right?). It needs an electrical outlet, which means it can only be installed on the toilet that already has a bidet. The old bidet should then be installed on the other toilet. “Ugh, let’s just return the damn thing,” I’ve been saying.

Admittedly, these have nothing to do with surviving the fourth trimester. These are the things I wish I could reply with when people ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” but I would feel guilty for asking way too much. So no, we are fine—thanks for offering!

If there’s anything you can take away from this, I guess it’s that parenting is hard, but not necessarily harder than regular life.

Birth Story

When I was expecting, I spent a lot of time reading the subreddit /r/babybumps, an online forum to discuss pregnancy. I particularly enjoyed when people posted “birth stories.” So much of what we (think we) know about labor and delivery comes from television and movies. It’s helpful to hear real first-person accounts to broaden your awareness of what can happen, good or bad.

For one thing, I had no idea that your cervix can start dilating weeks before your body is ready to deliver. You can have contractions for over a full day, but hospitals generally don’t admit you until they reach a particular intensity. Fifteen days before my due date, my ob/gyn determined my cervix was already 1 centimeter dilated. He encouraged me to walk around more so that it would dilate further, faster. Eight days before my due date, I was at 2 centimeters. Suddenly he warned me not to walk around too much, because the weather forecasts were predicting a big snowstorm that weekend and it might be tough getting to the hospital.

Then I reached my actual due date, and I was still at 2 centimeters with no regular contractions. (That snowstorm ended up not landing, either—at least not in our part of the state.) I went to the doctor again and he hooked me up to a fetal monitoring machine for twenty minutes. The machine indicated I’d had a bunch of contractions during that time, but I hadn’t felt anything. I was pretty impressed by my own pain tolerance and figured maybe this labor thing wasn’t going to be so bad. That evening, slightly bummed that I’d still be pregnant past the forty-week mark, I went to the mall with my husband to walk for an hour. I ate some dried pineapple that we bought from a candy stand, since pineapple is said to induce labor.

The following morning, I awoke at 4:45 with what felt like light menstrual cramps. This in itself was not unusual, as the same thing had happened every day for about a week. I had even been having some pink discharge, or “bloody show,” for several days. However, that morning, the cramps came and went with more regularity, they lasted longer, and I had darker red discharge.

At 5:10 am, I called my doctor and he advised us to go to the hospital. Even though I might still not have reached the requisite level of intensity, they wouldn’t send me back home since I was past my due date. Okay, then—this was it! It was finally happening!

But first, both my husband and I had some things to take care of. I took a shower, made and ate breakfast, and wrapped up some things for work. He had to get on a call and do other stuff for work, too. Kind of funny and sad that both of us were working while I was—hello!—going into active labor.

The rest of the day went by very quickly:

6:30 am: Left for the hospital.

7:10 am: Finished the paperwork to check in. Glad we had taken a tour of the hospital’s maternity ward a few weeks prior, so we already knew where to go and what to expect.

7:30 am: We were admitted into an L&D (labor and delivery) room. A nurse measured me at 4 centimeters dilated, hooked me up to a fetal monitoring machine and IV, and drew some blood. I played some games on my phone, read, chatted with my husband, and tried to nap.

10:20 am: Contractions were definitely stronger, but still tolerable. I was encouraged to walk around the L&D area to accelerate the dilation. After a few minutes, the mobile fetal monitoring machine started malfunctioning, so I was only allowed to circle my room.

11:30 am: My ob/gyn arrived and measured me at 5 centimeters. Contractions started hurting pretty badly; if this had been a period, I would have taken some Aleve by now. However, they still weren’t as regular as they should have been at this stage.

My doctor decided to break my water manually, which would unleash hormones to get me to 10 centimeters faster. I had to choose now whether I wanted an epidural (painkiller), because it would be more complicated to administer after my water was broken. In the movies, pregnant patients always seem to wait until the pain reaches some critical threshold to scream for it. I didn’t feel I was there yet, so I wasn’t sure. I never made a birth plan; I just wanted to play it by ear and do whatever the medical professionals recommended for my and the baby’s health. The nurse told me the pain would continue to get exponentially worse from here on out, and we still had hours to go. I decided to take the epidural.

An anesthesiologist came in to deliver a series of shots (local anesthesia plus the epidural itself), which he and the nurse said I took like a champ. Needles have never bothered me much. Next, the nurse hooked me up to a urinary catheter, since the painkiller would make it impossible for me to sense when I needed to pee. The catheter honestly hurt a lot more. Very soon, my legs felt numb, yet warm and fuzzy. I no longer felt any contractions. This stuff was incredible.

12:15 pm: At 5.5 centimeters, my doctor broke my water. I had heard it would feel like a popped water balloon, but it didn’t really—it was more like a faucet running. Back to phone games and napping.

2:15 pm: Contractions were lasting about 2 minutes each and coming every 5 minutes, which still was not frequent enough. Started a minimal Pitocin (oxytocin) dosage to induce labor.

3:00 pm: Not sure if the epidural was already wearing off or if the contractions were just that strong, but I started feeling pains again.

3:15 pm: Reached 8 centimeters. The nurse suggested that I have some “ice chips,” which we thought meant chunks of frozen water, but she was apparently referring to a cup of Italian ice. This was the only thing I was allowed to eat in the L&D room. I enjoyed it very much.

4:35 pm: Started feeling the need to poop, which meant it was time to start actively pushing the baby out. I kept my eyes screwed shut the entire time because of the pain, as well as fear of what I might see.

We thought my husband would just hold my hand or wipe my face, but he was instructed to play an active role in holding up one of my legs and supporting my neck. He was nervous about it, but I found it comforting.

The nurse was yelling rapidfire instructions: inhale, exhale, hold, push. I was confused about whether I was supposed to be holding my breath after inhaling or exhaling. I also couldn’t tell if I was pushing correctly. They said to use the same muscles you would when pooping, but I was terrified I’d get a hernia from pushing too hard. (My mother always said that would happen if you sat on the toilet too long!) At some point, unsettling imagery entered my mind, and I began to think I couldn’t keep pushing much longer.

5:03 pm: Baby was out! I heard his cries and my doctor declaring the time of birth. Before I knew it, someone placed him on my chest, and I saw this cutie staring straight into my eyes. I couldn’t believe he was here at last, or that I only needed to push for under half an hour. I was dimly aware of being stitched up—turned out I had a second-degree tear—but all I could focus on were my baby’s tiny face, his warm presence, and an overwhelming relief that it was all over and he was whole and healthy.

Overall, I felt it was a positive and smooth experience. It definitely seemed easier than most other birth stories I had read. The recovery over the next few days was tougher, with all the bleeding, stinging, and soreness. So grateful for all the kindness and support from my husband, our families, and the hospital staff.

It helped that the room service in the hospital was pretty good, too.