In November 2014 after nearly 4 years of waiting we finally welcomed our rainbow baby Xavier into the world. It was a looong first labour spread out over days of no sleep. I will go into his birth story maybe in November for his birthday. But for now it’s important to mention the length of his labour, as it meant I started our postpartum journey totally and utterly exhausted and sleep deprived. During the two nights I was in hospital he naturally cluster fed ALL NIGHT LONG and slept during the day. I had no idea what cluster feeding was, and just wondered why on earth was this child feeding so much to the point of vomiting it back up and refusing sleep. I was also a private in public patient, so even though I was lucky enough to score a private room (more so because I was a staff member) I could not have my hubby stay with me, which would have helped immensely.
I had such a lengthy road to pregnancy my focus had been on that and then labour. I really did not think too much or plan too much for my postpartum time. I did know that I did not want many visitors in the hospital. After such a journey to becoming parents, I really wanted those couple of days for us to be getting to bathe in the amazement and relief that we finally had a baby here earthside. I did not want to share him much right at the start. So, we only had a visit from our parents, and my husbands’ brother and family. I also had a very select few work colleagues pop their head in, as they had been a major support in my journey (I birthed at the hospital I worked in).
We immediately had issues with Xavier’s latch. He was already getting plenty of colostrum, my OB asked if he had been given formula as he was bringing so much back up. It meant my nipples very early on were getting damaged. I remember being so nervous for every feed and having to call on the midwifes to help me latch him. We did get eventually seen by an LC before going home and we played around with positions. Football hold seem to work best, but still I was getting damage. We left with no follow up support or recommendations in regard to his feeding. That I would need to chase myself as it turns out.
I also left the hospital with stitches from an episiotomy, a very uncomfortable hemorrhoid or two, days of no sleep and was pretty swollen with fluid retention. But despite all of that we were feeling pretty ecstatic to finally be taking our baby home. I can’t even remember if we had prepared many meals for postpartum. But I do recall dinner times being tricky. It was of course the time he wanted to be wakeful and feeding. I remember us trying to get him settled enough to go to sleep so we could cook and eat. In hindsight we should have just tag teamed dinner and eating and had more meals just to quickly heat up.
We had a string of visitors. After such a long waited for arrival and being the first born, many were keen to meet him. I was also happy to show him off. I do recall though the most enjoyable and helpful visits were those when people brought food and did the dishes. I also had one person show up without arranging it, and I just felt really put out by it.
We continued to have issues with feeding. My milk came in right on day 5. I had so much milk he was drowning in it. Which of course did not help the latch. The only thing I got upset about was about the feeding. I was so keen to make it work and wanted to be pain free. We were lucky that the council had an LC home visiting service. She linked us with a great Osteopath so he had some sessions with her. The LC also assessed him and said he was tongue tied. We had never heard of this and really did not know enough so was guided by what was being told to us. So, within the first few weeks he had his tongue snipped. Sadly, we didn’t see much improvement from the procedure. I went to breast-feeding drop-in centres, I called the Australian breast feeding association. I was trying everything. Some days were worse than others. I just made very small feeding goals. For example ‘I’ll get to Friday and reassess the situation. If there is no improvement, I’ll consider formula.’ However the day would come and there would have been a good day slipped in there so I just kept moving the goal posts.
My husband had two full weeks off work, then two half weeks at home/work. I remember feeling so nervous about him going back to work. How I wish I had him or someone else with me for longer. The visitors of course slowed down and were mostly on the weekends any way. I did enjoy staying in bed after hubby went back to work and slow starts. But I did feel the need to be out and pushing the pram or having him in the carrier for walks.
Xavier was in a bassinet in our room, next to the bed. So I fed him in bed every night. He started to have a very wakeful time at about 3am. I recall several days seeing the sun start to come up before we could settle him to sleep. It was grueling. It was after several weeks of this we introduced the dummy at this time and he instantly settled. I had worry and guilt over using a dummy, but it worked for our kids who clearly wanted to suck but were causing me too much damage and pain. He also would be wakeful in those early evenings and stay awake until 9/10pm. So the lack of sleep did feel like it featured a bit on my worry list. I did try and nap with him during the day, but have never been a great napper. He soon started catnapping during the day anyway. I did prioritise going to bed when he went to bed in the evening. In those first few weeks it actually meant I sometimes went to bed at 7pm for a few hours before he woke again for another feed.
I attended our local mothers group organised through the maternal child heath centre. This was one of the things I was so really looking forward to. We didn’t get to start it though until the new year. So by that stage Xav was already like 8 weeks old. We were still dealing with the damaged nipples due to poor latch, and he was catnapping. So I often found myself a little stressed attending as he was tricky to get to sleep especially while out. I recall several of the babies just being put down on the ground in front of their mum and falling to sleep on their own. I so wanted Xavier’s sleep to come that easily. I am eternally grateful to have been dealt a wonderful mothers group of 11 mums. Those first few years we met weekly and over the years its become more sporadic as work and kinder/school schedules take over. But we talk almost daily on a group messenger and see each other when we can. So they play an important role in my postpartum journey and are a treasured part of my village.
Finally at about 4 months, the pain from breast feeding settled down. I still occasionally had vasospasm but otherwise I didn’t dread feeds and actually got to enjoy it. Xav and I enjoyed getting out, the main stress though was the getting to the place (as he was a terrible car traveler, and didn’t love the pram), and sleep! I reflect now and wish I hadn’t been so focused on sleep. He was a typical catnapper. I would try to settle him after the 40 minutes and a lot of the time I was trying to settle him longer than what he had actually slept. Or he would take me 40 plus minutes to get to sleep then only sleep 30-40 minutes. He was never one to really feed to sleep, all my kids preferred movement. I used the carrier in the first few months for longer sleeps, but then he started being tricky to get to sleep in that. He was also a chunk of a baby and was a spring/summer newborn so carriers sometimes were just too hot to use.
I was getting pretty exhausted. Very broken sleep over night, and no opportunity to nap during the day. We had limited physical support available to us as both parents worked and lived over an hour away. So sadly sleep became a focus on something I needed to fix. Crying it out never sat well with me, but somewhere along the line I’m sure we gave it a try for maybe 2 minutes! At about 7 months we went to an early parenting day unit. It was run by midwifes and we did gain a lot from it. They covered a lot of things like eating solids, play and of course sleep. The sleep part now, and also at the time was the part that sat uneasy with me. They claimed not to do cry it out which is why we signed up to go. However, what they did was more what you would label ‘responsive settling’. Which meant that every time you put him down and walked out he of course cried, and they/we went back in settled him, put him down and walked out again. It was awful for us. They managed to get him to sleep doing that in the morning. However, when it was our turn in the afternoon, after he woke from his catnap we didn’t manage to get him back to sleep. I left taking away some positives from the day but very deflated about the sleep. I think we dabbled in the techniques we tried at the unit, but it didn’t feel good for us. At about 8 months he just started to do longer sleeps, and I feel it was more developmental over anything we had tried. I share that part of our journey as I know sleep is a big one for many. I also know everyone will have different feelings about how they approach sleep. For some sleep training feels ok and works for them. For others it’s a total no go. As you will see in my future postpartum posts, sleep, or lack of, felt more easier for us to deal with as time went on.
When Xavier was 9 months old we went back to our fertility specialist to ask what the process would be when the time comes to try again. I didn’t want to leave it too long as it took so long to get Xavier. Basically I couldn’t be breast feeding before doing any treatments, so I wasn’t keen to even consider weaning until after one year. We left with her saying to call her though if we get lucky naturally. Well one week later I called her to say we are actually pregnant! We some how conceived naturally, while still breastfeeding 9 month old Xavier. We were beyond thrilled!
Our first 9 months of our postpartum journey was a total whirlwind. The following 9 months in summery I dealt with morning sickness, a terrible few months with a teething 12 month old, while also mourning the sudden loss of my dad, two weeks after Xavier’s 1st birthday. A very physically tough pregnancy with more hip pain pain and also sciatica. I also was carrying Xavier everywhere until I was 7 months pregnant when he finally was able to walk. I didn’t manage to return to any formal exercise besides a few sporadic yoga classes. So i was heading into my second postpartum journey physically not doing well and emotionally a tad fragile. I shall share part 2 next week!