Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Postpartum Healing: The Physical Side.

Hello folks! Still settling into a routine with Liam and the new neighborhood. Of course, next week I'll have to come up with a new routine (again) once I go back to work.

I figured I'd do a post on the postpartum period of pregnancy/childbirth. There's some good information out there about cycling & pregnancy, but not too much about what happens AFTER birth. I want to start with the physical side of healing, since that directly impacts the ability to get on a bike again. I just had my 6 week postpartum check-up today.

Physically, I'm pretty much back to "normal". I had a very fortunate birth experience in which I was able to give birth vaginally without tearing, just some minor abrasions and swelling. I spent the first 3 weeks physically healing from the birth itself. I was on IV fluids for almost 30 hours, so I experienced more swelling the days after the birth than in my entire pregnancy! That was annoying. It went away after 1.5-2 weeks though. I did have some painful swelling around the birth canal. I was advised to take 600mg of Motrin daily, and that seemed to help. Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm helped with the abrasions. I found that standing/walking for more than 10 minutes at a time painful & uncomfortable. Not unbearable, but it wasn't fun. I couldn't even think about getting back on a bicycle, ouch! Unfortunately, we were right in the middle of our move, so in addition to caring for a newborn, I was also unpacking and moving a lot of boxes too. (I do NOT recommend doing this). I convinced myself that being forced to get up and move around helped the healing. I was probably fooling myself. The lochia (blood and other stuff that is discharged from the vagina after birth) slowed after 2 weeks and completely stopped at 4 weeks. That was another problem-wearing pads with the vaginal abrasions was excruciating. I was so glad when I was able to stop. So, combined with the swelling, abrasions & lochia, cycling was just out of the question.

In addition to the physical trauma of giving birth, I was/am suffering from sleep deprivation. When I was in the recovery room after Liam was born, I was almost wishing to be back in labor! While I was in labor, the epidural allowed me to sleep right through most everything. Once Liam was born, that was all over! If it wasn't Liam waking us up to be fed/changed, it was the nurses. I haven't had a full nights sleep since before Liam was born (and probably well before that, since I was suffering from pregnancy-induced insomnia as well).  I have a whole rant on how new mothers are treated like crap once they give birth, but it probably isn't appropriate for this blog. I'll just say that as a police officer, I treated prisoners more humanely than I was.

"Sleep when Baby sleeps" is probably the most useless advice I've ever received. Baby sleeping was when I was finally able to have a little time to myself and get things done (and I had a lot of things that needed getting done!) Believe me, I would have loved to have nothing else to do except nap, but that just wasn't possible. There was also the mental factor of needing a break from the baby to do ME things, even if it was just farting around on the internet for awhile.  In the meantime, I just grab an hour or two when I can. Sometimes, I can get 3-4 hours at a time at night! That's a treat. Sleep deprivation tends to make me feel nauseous, so my appetite disappears when I'm really tired.

I'm combo breastfeeding/supplementing (I know this is a hot topic, and if you want me to talk about the whys & hows & stuff on here, I can), and the first week was tough. Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions. These contractions help the uterus to shrink back down to its non-pregnant size. This is very uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. It was akin to painful period cramps. Also, my nipples were cracked and sore since Liam and I were still both learning how to breastfeed. I didn't suffer the super painful engorgement that many women suffer from once their milk comes in, luckily. It took about 3 weeks (and liberal application of Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter) before breastfeeding stopped being painful. Breastfeeding also makes you HUNGRY. I'm hungry all the time, except when I'm feeling nauseous from not sleeping. And thirsty. And hot as hell. Thanks, hormones. I've been eating a lot of junk food because of the move (quick & easy = a lot of pizza and deli sandwiches), but I'm trying to break that habit now. Breastfeeding is also supposed to help you lose the pregnancy weight. I haven't had a chance to weigh myself yet, but I'm pretty much back in my pre-pregnancy pants, although they are a bit more snug than I remember. I still have a bit to go. It was so weird looking at my belly the hours after giving birth. I still had a very pregnant bump, but...there was nothing in there. I still looked pretty pregnant for about 2 weeks after the birth, and I still have a bit of a bump 6 weeks later.

It took about 4 weeks after birth until I no longer felt like I had just given birth and was able to fully resume normal activities. I started by going on short walks with Liam in the stroller. Those felt good, so I took a ride on the bike. The biggest obstacle to getting back on the bikes wasn't healing from the birth, its finding the time to ride! With the husband back at work, I have to watch Liam most of the day and he's too young to take with me on a ride. I have to wait until the husband gets home (or is on a day off) to find time to sneak in a ride, and even then it has to be short since I'm breastfeeding. I could pump a bottle for dad to feed Liam, but that requires even more time and planning. But, I did manage to find time for a couple of rides. They were short rides, and the area I live in now is pretty flat, so they were easy rides. I took Betty (beach cruiser) along the trail that runs by our neighborhood. It felt good, but there was a pretty good headwind. One thing I loved is the number of families I saw on the trail. But more on that in another post. I also took Kermit out for a brief ride. Other than some weird sounds coming from the front wheel (I'm going to need to inspect all the bikes carefully at some point), it felt like I had never been off him.

At 6 weeks postpartum, I feel perfectly fine & capable of riding a bicycle again. The longest ride I've done so far is 14 miles, and that felt great. Being able to go out for a ride now & then has been a big stress reliever for me, which is desperately needed. I also can't wait until Liam is old enough to ride with me!

The next post will be about the mental/emotional parts of postpartum healing. It will probably be quite a bit longer...

Some pictures of my new neighborhood, taken while I was out riding & exploring:

This paved trail covers a good portion of the island, but unfortunately isn't completely connected at places. Still, its a nice trail!

I need to find the story behind this bench. It's a memorial (you probably can't read the names carved on it in this photo). There are benches & picnic tables all along the trail.

Ugh. I really hate "Bikers Dismount" signs. They are useless and silly. I don't mind the stop sign, but I am not walking my bike every 30 feet (this trail crosses a lot of roads and driveways).

Must be nice to have your own plane in your backyard! The folks in this neighborhood all have their own private hangars!

Bike parking! I plan to put up some kind of shelter, so the bikes aren't completely exposed. In bad weather/winter, they'll be kept in the garage.

The local beach. It's actually quite tiny, but I look forward to using it when I actually have the time.

There is a fishing pier at the end of the trail. This is a view from it.

And just because I couldn't resist!