Notes for New Moms

So I had a baby; he’s amazing and we’ve called him Finn. In other news, my right breast is a horror show and looks like it’s been attacked by an ice-cream scoop.

This is why after three months of self-imposed digital hermitry, I’m writing and posting another piece. There are a bunch of things I wish I’d known when I was still pregnant, but I went in to motherhood like a wide-eyed doe, and that’s made being a new mom harder than necessary.

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If you’re prego, and are planning to breastfeed, here are some handy tips to keep in mind for when your Noo arrives:

Tongue-Ties

Finn was born tongue-tied. This means that the little strip of skin under his tongue was closer to the tip than normal, and prevented the poor little guy from sticking his tongue out of his mouth.

With such a limited lick, he couldn’t massage my areola and stimulate milk flow. So he just chewed the tips of my nipples (!) and got meagre dribbles of food. Unfortunately, his tongue-tie was only spotted when he was a week and a half old. So, for 10 days I tried to feed, panicking about my low milk production, and not knowing why my baby was always crying or why my nipples were so raw.

What you can do: Remember to ask your midwife, gynae or paediatrician to check for a tongue-tie.

Nipple Laser

I refer not to the pew-pew variety, but rather the healing kind. I was actually checking out of the hospital, and moaning about my sore nerps when a nurse mentioned the treatment to me. I wish I’d known to request it, because if I’d had the laser done while I was still in hospital, medical aid would have covered it.

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I ended up having a few sessions on my poor nips in the first week of Finn’s life, and it helped instantly; as in the very next feed was much less painful. It’s not THAT expensive, and it toughens up the ole puppy dog noses.

What you can do: Request the treatment if your nipples are making breastfeeding really sore. Breastfeeding is NOT supposed to be really sore…

Nipple Prep

In our antenatal classes, we were told that nipples are meant for feeding, so they can deal with the feeding. Mine could not, and I wish I’d taken time to toughen them up in preparation for my hungry infant’s nomming.

What you can do: Spend some time with your naked nips pointing skyward. Just 3-5 minutes a day in the morning sun does wonders. Even if you’re already breastfeeding, this helps so much with sore nips. And it’s free. I recommend applying the good lanolin, and hanging the washing up topless. It feels fantastic.

Lanolin

Forget Bennet’s nipple cream, or Elizabeth Anne’s, or anything white and pasty. When your nips are sore, you want the soft caress of sticky lanolin. Heck, if you can squeeze it straight from the sheep that’s first prize. Second prize = 100% pure lanolin in a tube.

What you can do: Buy it from pharmacies or baby stores. Seriously, don’t mess around with the other stuff. Ask for Lansinoh or Medela Purelan.

Blocked Milk Ducts and Mastitis

Ok, this is pretty common, and it hurts. Basically you get sore red patches on your boobs and you need to give yourself a painful shower massage to work your milk through the blocked ducts. Ultrasound sessions followed by massage can also help. If it’s super bad you’ll need a course of antibiotics.

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Unfortunately, as I found out, all manner of horrific things can happen when mastitis or blocked ducts are not dealt with properly.

What you can do: If the red patches have just appeared, hit the shower and do the warm water boob massage. Lather up and rub from the outside of the patch towards the nipple, so the milk flows out.

Afterwards, put some chilled cabbage leaves in your bra, under the breast pad. These help to ease engorgement. They smell REALLY bad, but they help. I was advised to just use the soft frilly edges of the leaves, not the hard crunchy bits close to the base. Your best options are the great sprawling cabbages you find at veg markets, not the neat, cling-wrapped ones from the supermarket.

Covered in dirt = yes. Covered in plastic = no.

Leave ‘em in your bra over night. Your bedfellow won’t thank you, but your breasts sure will.

If the red patches don’t go away, if they keep returning, or if they get excruciatingly sore, get a doctor to check you out. Do it pronto. I learnt the hard way.

Abscesses

This is where my story gets interesting.

I had this recurring patch of redness that got increasingly more painful to the touch. So I went for a few ultrasound sessions, and the midwife got my gynae to prescribe a course of antibiotics. The redness kept coming back, the pain got worse, and one day I asked my baby clinic to refer me to a breast doctor.

She did an ultrasound-imaging scan and found what looked like a cross section of the Death Star. A 4.5x2cm mass, which she called: ‘an organised abscess’. Now your regular garden-variety abscess is a slacker with no ambition. It can be drained with a needle and some local anaesthetic. Not so his organised cousin. Dum dum dummm.

I’d been trusting the opinion of a well-meaning lactation specialist, but I should have gone to a doctor. The doc who did the scan referred me to a surgeon on the spot and said “Get thee to a hospital.”

The surgeon took a look, and less than an hour later I went under general anaesthetic to have a squash-ball sized abscess drained and removed. Fortunately I received the expert ministrations of the best boob guy in the area.

The worst part of the treatment for an organised abscess is the recovery, because the site is not stitched up, it has to heal as an open wound. For a week, I had a drain in the wound, and had to go in to hospital every morning to have the dressing changed. One time I made the mistake of looking, and I nearly died. Seriously.

Now, three weeks later, I still can’t look at it. Luckily my hubby is made of sterner stuff. He rinses it out and reapplies the dressing twice a day, while I stand in the shower with my eyes shut, stoically thinking of things to put on sandwiches.

I’m still breastfeeding, but can’t feed on Frankenboob, because the wound is right next to my nipple. So left boob is doing all the work, and I am she of lopsided boobage. The good news is that my boy is healthy and happy, and getting plenty of food, because our bodies are amazing things that adapt to situations better than our psyches do.

At the moment I’m struggling with a severe case of the downers as a result of the whole ordeal. My breast will never be the same, and this is a really hard reality to accept.

It’s also damn tough to care for a 7-week-old baby when your right side is super tender. Even picking things up is a challenge.

What you can do: Not that much unfortunately. My surgeon told me to accept the mystery (his words), and that 1 in 10 breastfeeding women develop abscesses. The trick is to catch it early on. Be super aware of any red patches, and if you’re at all concerned go to a freaking doctor immediately.

I know my breast will heal and life will go on, but I wish it had never happened in the first place. If you know anyone who is having a baby, please tell them about how they can avoid these scenarios, so they can spend those first precious first few months of motherhood enjoying their baba.

10 Things

I have actual guilt feelings about not writing anything sooner.

My hub’s been away since the end of October, and I was expecting to write the crap out of my feelings, but mostly I’ve been hiding on the couch after work, watching Downton Abbey*.

The truth is that I’ve been processing the pregnancy thing, and the logistics of childbirth. That last post took it out of me.

Recently though, I’ve managed to come to terms with the inevitable, thanks to the awesome words of moms all around me. It’s been overwhelming to share my fears, and be met with such support and wisdom.

As a result, at 34 weeks, I’ve progressed from worrying about labour pains to binge researching ways of avoiding cracked nipples.

Also, I’ve managed to compile a list of things that I can’t wait to enjoy again:

1: Beer – Those non-alcoholic impostors can go sit in syrup. I want a tall fresh frosty draught. Maybe two.

2: Mouldy cheese – It’s hard to avoid Gorgonzola or Roquerfort when dining out in Cape Town. Seriously, we live in Foodie Central and there are so many fancy freaking burgers I have not been able to devour.

3: Sushi – Cooked prawn and veg substitutes can only tide one over for so long.

4: Denims – It’s been months since I wore a pair of jeans. The mere thought of anything with a waistband makes me twitch like a junkie, and I WILL NOT go the route of the maternity jean pant.

5: Sleeping through the night – Rumour has it that in about three years I’ll enjoy this particular boon once more – I guess until then I’ll have to settle for not having to stumble to the loo every time I finally get comfortable.

6: Finally getting comfortable.

7: An aerial view of my southern hemisphere – I know it exists, but I can’t interact with it.

8: Wearing my high tops – Picture a praying mantis trying to ride a tricycle and you have a pretty good idea of what I look like putting on lace-ups.

9: Gravity – While I know that this is what makes life on our planet liveable, it’s really pissing me off at the mo’. Right now, anything that falls on the floor is dead to me. I guess the upside is that I’ve become pretty damn adept at catching things with my feet – a skill I would have killed for when I was at college and all about those hacky sack boys.

10: My brain – Just last night I left my car unlocked, on a dodgy street in Plumstead, for two hours, WITH THE KEYS IN THE IGNITION.

I think that all in all, the third trimester has given me a newfound respect for the humble robot mech. When you see them on the big screen, you’re all about the mech operator – uhh yeaaah boooi. But I know – and so do all the preggies and moms out there – that when you have a melon-sized critter cavorting in your torso, you call very few of the shots.

My gut-commander isn’t that bad though. Its demands are reasonable. Right now for example, it needs a grilled cheese sandwich.

I’m powerless… to… resist…

*that storyline kills off characters like it’s related to George R R Martin.

Labour of Love

This is a serious one.

For the first time in my pregnancy I’m scared. Scratch that – I’m petrified. Up until now my emotions have been even-keeled, and I’ve managed to maintain my sense of humour, but something’s switched around and I’m all over the place. I think I’ve just been on a preggy hormone high, but what goes up must come down – right?

We’ve been going to antenatal classes, and the first one was awesome. We learnt so much cool stuff, like what my pelvis is capable of, and how lying on your back makes it pretty difficult to give birth. The process is by no means graceful; it’s primal. And I’m OK with that. My hubby’s eyes were like saucers at the end and I thought that was hilarious.

This week though, we went to our second class, and it was my turn to be all wide-eyed. The midwife discussed the various stages of labour, using very tasteful visual aids to show what happens to your body as you progress. And cartoons that show what your facial expression looks like: from smiley, to serious, to grim, to dying a thousand deaths at once, to peaceful. No gory stuff, which I was grateful for.

Only thing is, she threw around words like “thrashing contractions”.

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Let me give you some time to process that.

Thrashing. Contractions.

Thrashing.

It was at that point that something in my mind switched. All the images I had of a peaceful labour just vanished, and I began to seriously doubt my ability to give birth naturally, without the assistance of drugs.

I react badly to pain and helplessness. For example, I remember needing to be held down to get an injection when I was about 10-years old. And then, on my 22nd birthday, I apparently attacked some helpful paramedics who were trying to get me out of my car after I’d had an accident.

Somehow I hadn’t considered this aspect of my personality in relation to childbirth. Then when she said “thrashing”, it all came crashing in.

So now, I have 9 weeks to get my head together and stop freaking out. In my mind I know that the baby has to come out, and that logistically this can be tricky, but I also know that us women have been doing this for years.

Unfortunately, this rationale is all only in my mind. In my heart I’m unsettled. I’m not proud to admit it, but every time I hear something dumb like “Save the beaver; have a Caesar” or “Why go through the basement if you can go through the penthouse?” I recoil inside and question my decision to go natural.

I think what I’m really afraid of is being in the moment, and not being able to cope. If I’m 100% honest with myself, I’m not 100% sure I can do this.

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Fear and Loathing in the Layette Aisle

I’ve been off the radar for a few days. My dad turned 70 and our family got together for the first time in nearly six years. I guess our time in Dullstroom is worth a blogpost in itself, what with veld fires, five children and an impressive array of whiskey (none of which are related). BUT, there’s something more pressing on my mind.

Preparing a gift registry for our baby shower. Egad.

When the hub and I got married, we went to a home store and zapped a bunch of cool stuff with those scanner guns. We didn’t really have a plan, just tagged things we thought were rad. Like a shiny red toaster, martini glasses, and three different sets of measuring spoons. These ‘essential’ items are now respectively broken, broken and passed on (because I don’t bake).

Point being that for the baby registry, I’d be damned before I went in blind. So I spoke to my mum, took an inventory of what we have already, and read some enlightening blogs. Armed with lists and recommendations, hubby and I sauntered into Baby City ready to breeze through without any issues. After five minutes, and some heavy breathing of the very unsexy kind, we had to get an assistant to help us.

While my hub compared the specs of three identical-but-completely-different colic drops, muttering: “This place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the Fear” I had to ask some fascinating questions:

  • Ummm bottle teats come in different girths…?
  • So do you need to measure my nipples?
  • Which bum cream is the right bum cream?
  • What do you mean some kids don’t take to pacifiers?
  • How can we tell which of these nasal aspirators is a good one?
  • What’s a nasal aspirator?
  • Will this sippy cup really ‘stimulate and assist’ our child’s development? Really?
  • Can we get one of these in anything other than cheerleader pink or jock-strap blue?
  • What do you mean cracked nipples???

After 45 minutes of barely contained panic we called it quits, my precious list long forgotten. We had a good look at the other baby registry trolleys on our way out, and to our despair they were filled with carefully considered combinations of very important-looking baby things.

What if we chose the wrong feeding mat? What if our child develops a speech impediment because of a hastily chosen spoon? What if our lack of infant merchandise savvy causes us to raise a morally defunct human? It seems that we might already have failed as parents before we’ve even had our first intoxicating whiff of baby smell.

I still don’t know what half those very important things in our trolley are for, but hopefully once we have the little one our instincts will kick in and all will be clear.

On the upside, apart from the placatory post-registry ice cream, the day’s saving grace was that my hub found a gigantic carabiner (he really likes carabiners), and a baby sun hat that reminds him of Raoul Duke.

Baby stores, no thanks? Impossible to walk in this muck; no footing at all.

Pregnancy: The Fine Print

When I fell pregnant I was looking forward to 9 months of glowing bliss. I was all set for a juicy bust line, and at the worst, an adorkably cute bout of preggy brain.

Hah!

This is what I got instead:

All the gas

If you watch Rick and Morty you’ll understand how distracting it is when someone’s every second word is a burp. My husband thinks it’s hilarious. I think it’s ridiculous. The worst thing is getting so comfortable with it at home that I forget to censor myself in polite company, like when I’m at the shops, or talking to our landlady, or in meetings with clients.

Apparently when I wake up I sound like a herd of gremlins having an argument. Honesty’s so important in a marriage.

Shrinking boobs

I know right? Clearly I have no manner of luck when it comes to the genetic lottery. A colleague, whose French ballerina wife is pregnant, says that for the first 6 months her boobs kept growing, then her tummy popped… For me, not so much. There was one heady month when I needed to buy new bras, (oh what a month that was!) then, as if to mock me, the girls receded to pre-preggie size, and dug their heels in.

Unbelievable.

Feeling like a haggis

So it makes sense that growing a baby makes you heavy, but when you experience it that’s another story. At the moment, I feel like I’m full of cement. I try to get off the couch and it’s not graceful. When I ask the hub for a hand he pulls me halfway up, then gently drops me back down, sniggering. He says I’m like a tortoise on my back.

While we’re talking about ungainly, there’s no point in even attempting lace up shoes after 6 months. Imagine a T-Rex trying to pick a blade of grass. Look past the poor T-Rex and you’ll see my husband doubled up with laughter. That guy.

Thinking about food all the time

On the up side, I’ve searched my heart and found that I do have a valid reason to motorboat my way through more food than other people. I’m like a magician. You see that croissant? Hehe, not for long. Fortunately I’ve hade more aversions than cravings, and the food I do want is mostly all good. Carrot cake is good – right?

So yep. What with ensmallening boobs, awkward clumsiness, and a general sense of ‘everything’s about to fall out’ I don’t always feel that glow. I do get a shine though, when my oh-so-tactful man bends down and talks to the belly. Nothing beats that feeling.

 

Nothing.

Ground Zero

I never expected to be 33, bulbous with child and happy about it. But here I am, glowing and gassy, due Jan 3 2015.

Bump

By trade, I’m a writer – if you can even call that a trade – but in my heart I’m still a reckless 20-year old looking for animals in the clouds. Sound familiar? Meh, we’re legion.

Thing is, I somehow survived my 20s, and now that I’m all high on pregnancy hormones, I’m looking forward to a new adventure that I never thought would be part of my plan.

It’s not that I never wanted to have children, it’s just that I wasn’t particularly broody. When people went nuts over baby photos I wasn’t interested. But then slowly, and completely without my permission, by body started to soften me up to the idea. It wasn’t so much an upholstery-clad Marissa Tomei stamping her foot at Vinny, but more of a gradual realigning to all things maternal.

I’m still not much of a baby cooer, but I’m so excited to meet this little one I get all teared up sometimes. I mean look: it’s a real human. Fist bumping even!

Thumper

I guess this blog will be a place for me to talk about my feels, and the stuff that goes through my mind. Like dogs, and beards, and food.