Sometimes life throws you curve balls that no amount of planning can prepare you for.
You may have noticed that I've been somewhat M.I.A. lately, both here on Taste As You Go and on my various social media accounts. Depending on how you keep tabs on me, you may already know the reason why I've been relatively silent.
I promise, it's the best reason in the world.
For those not already in the know, I'm beyond excited to share the news of the arrival of Baby R!
Caroline Patricia was born a week ago yesterday, three weeks and one day before my due date. While many of the major items on our baby to-do list were taken care of, there were many things that had yet to be crossed off the list before I went into late preterm labor. I had outlined my birth plan and had formed an idea in my head of how I wanted things to go, but it was clear that many of those details were going to fall by the wayside. I had to accept that whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
My first week of motherhood has been full of precious, unforgettable moments that I will cherish for as long as I live. But it has also been full of difficult moments and emotionally frustrating moments. As much as I want to cling to the positives, I feel it's just as important to talk about the negatives.
Through this blog post and my own personal catharsis, I hope that other new mothers can find peace in knowing that they're "not the only ones". While I'm a firm believer that every woman, every pregnancy, every experience is different... I'm also a firm believer that we all have a lot more in common than we'll ever admit.
I don't know if you believe in signs, but, looking back, the signs that I'd deliver Caroline ahead of my due date were there. Out of nowhere, I was overcome by an intense need to nest. That need propelled us to finally purchase a glider and ottoman for the nursery, the shopping trip for which was followed by me spending six hours in the kitchen cleaning out and scrubbing the refrigerator, counters, and stove.
Then, the next day, I was surprised by family and friends with a baby shower at the house... a slightly risky endeavor considering I was nearing the end of my 36th week. We all had a fabulous time, but the unexpected gathering took a lot of energy out of me. I don't think it helped that the shower fell on Daylight Saving, as we lost that hour of much-needed sleep.
My body was exhausted by the time Stephen and I went to bed, and I had no idea that my water would break less than two hours later. At first, I wasn't sure whether my water broke or whether what I was feeling were really contractions, but I got over my uncertainty once I realized how quickly and regularly the contractions were coming. Nothing I did -- change positions, walk around, drink water -- slowed them down, so we called my doctor and she told us to head to the hospital.
By the time I made it to triage, I was already dilated 5-6 centimeters, and before I knew it, I was being helped into a gown and transported to the maternity ward. Not too long after that, I was given an epidural for the pain and fell asleep for a few hours.
What happened next is kind of a blur. I can remember being told that it was time to push. I can remember various people in the room counting to ten and telling me to "PUSH HARDER". I can remember bursting into tears because I wanted my mother. I can remember feeling pain like I've never felt before and screaming for the doctor to just "PULL THE BABY OUT".
I can also remember Stephen encouraging me every step of the way, and I can remember making a few jokes (thank you, epidural) before I screamed to everyone in the room to stop telling me to "PUSH HARDER". After about 90 minutes of pushing, we finally welcomed Caroline into the world.
Although I loved the idea of going home and sleeping in my own bed again, I was also intimidated by the idea. Going home meant returning to the familiar, but it also meant losing the round-the-clock support system that I had quickly grown accustomed to. Stephen and I were now fully responsible for keeping our daughter healthy and safe and, as first-time parents, the reality of that responsibility was terrifying.
We really only had one option -- to do our best.
So, we went home and turned our attention to taking care of our little girl and to making sure I allowed myself to recover. The first 24 hours at home were exhausting, as we expected them to be, but we weren't expecting having to return to the hospital so soon.
Jaundice and Breastfeeding
After getting the results of a routine bilirubin test, our pediatrician told us that Caroline would have to be treated for jaundice, a condition caused by the chemical build-up of bilirubin in a baby's blood. Because it takes a few days for a baby's liver to get better at removing bilirubin, it's quite common for babies to develop jaundice.
Not a totally unexpected diagnosis, but the news was still upsetting to me, partly because my body was raging with postpartum hormones. We barely had time to get used to being at home with a newborn before we were throwing things into a bag (again) and heading to the hospital (again).
It was my postpartum hormones that made dealing with the situation much more difficult. Especially when it came down to feeding Caroline while we were in the hospital. I was just starting to get comfortable with breastfeeding and learning how to help her latch-on, and now I was being told that I couldn't nurse her. Nursing her meant taking her out from underneath the bili lights, so I'd have to pump my breastmilk and feed her with a bottle instead.
Immediately my brain zeroed in on what Stephen and I had learned in the breastfeeding class we took -- "Giving bottles makes nursing more difficult... Wait 2 to 4 weeks before using a bottle." -- and I wanted to cry. On top of that, the doctor and nurses kept telling me they were concerned I wasn't producing enough milk. The fact that my milk had just started to come in that day didn't matter to them.
I was being rushed into pumping before I was ready and was being rushed into feeding Caroline with a bottle before we were ready and, suddenly, the whole situation felt ten times worse. The nurse brought the pump in for me, showed me how to use it, and then left so I could pump in private. Even though I knew I was doing what was best for my daughter in the short term, I couldn't help but cry and I worried that bottle-feeding would derail the progress we had already made in terms of breastfeeding.
Not my finest hour.
That night in the hospital was hard. But the time under the bili lights was good for the baby and her bilirubin level dropped enough to warrant being discharged.
Unfortunately, yesterday's follow-up bilirubin test showed that the level was up again. Caroline now gets the pleasure of spending the night wrapped in a biliblanket so she can get the phototherapy that she needs, and daily bilirubin tests will be the new norm until our pediatrician has confirmed that her bilirubin level has dropped and stabilized.
On the plus side? The time we spent bottle-feeding Caroline in the hospital didn't affect my ability to breastfeed once we were home again.
The first week home with a newborn takes a lot of adjusting. There will inevitably be high points and low points, and it's perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and frustrated... especially when you're also feeling sleep-deprived.
Stephen and I are getting through it by staying positive, giving ourselves credit where credit is due, laughing whenever we can, and being there for each other. Of course, we also have an amazing network of supportive family members and friends who are looking out for us and giving us encouragement as we continue to navigate our way through the early days of parenthood.
The ups-and-downs and highs-and-lows of the first week have been difficult, sure... But after looking at this face, I know without a shadow of a doubt that every single second has been worth it.
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