Julia was one of my Doula clients. Right from our first consult I felt like we clicked. She's sweet and laid back and working with her and her husband was a treat. Her birth, for the most part, went really well. It was fast, and smooth, and she got the vaginal birth she had hoped for. But just because someone has an easy pregnancy and birth, doesn't mean that the postpartum period will continue that smooth transition. I was a little surprised when I had her email sitting in my inbox. I had NO idea that her past few weeks had been this hard. After briefly lecturing her about not reaching out to me in her time of need (you guys that's what I'm here for!!) I thanked her for opening up and sharing her story because for real, postpartum is hard
As a first time mom-to- be I was so looking forward to the early postpartum days with my newborn. I had dreams of sleepy days filled with cuddles, smiles, cute outfits, and quiet strolls through the neighborhood. Perhaps we would even wear flower crowns. And I would drink lemonade. Looking back, I think my expectations were a bit too high. But I certainly did not expect what has happened during this time to happen. I absolutely love my daughter and think she is the most perfect being; but damn, this has been the fourth trimester from hell.
Sure, I had read about the fourth trimester and how tough it can be on various blogs from veteran moms. But I feel like the details were a bit minimal. I didn’t understand just how tough it can really be. So here is my story, which is actually not complete as I am still in the throes of it all. But I wanted to shed a light on the not so sunny side of motherhood because in all honestly, I’ve found it to be a completely raw, vulnerable, visceral experience and I know there are women out there who must feel the same.
Right from the start of my labor, things did not go according to plan. I had hoped to labor at home for a bit, to see if I could handle it naturally. But when my water broke at 3am with an overdue baby’s meconium along with it, we decided (with the guidance of our doctor) that it was safer to get to the hospital ASAP. Not to mention my contractions felt as though they went from 0 to 60 mph in just 45 minutes. I quickly hit 5cm dilated and started writhing on the hospital bed like I was possessed by a demon, so I made the best decision for myself to get that epidural! I thought I was in for the long haul of labor, being a first time mom, and I just really wasn’t into the idea of being in all that pain for an extended period of time. But the little one decided she had waited long enough and boom, 30 minutes after being told I was 5cm, I was 10cm and ready to push. The passionate, persistent, and particular Elodie was born an hour and a half later.
While I was blessed with a relatively straightforward and fast delivery, my recovery was somewhat traumatic. No amount of prenatal classes could prepare me for the difficulty that was learning to breastfeed for the first time while aching from a third degree tear on very, very little sleep. During my pregnancy, my nipples suddenly morphed “flat” so a lactation consultant gave me a nipple shield to use. Little did I know that the nipple shield would cause Elodie to only intake foremilk, never stimulating a true let down for the prized hindmilk. For the first two weeks I thought she’d been getting her fill, however, her pediatrician informed me otherwise when she hadn’t gotten back to her birth weight.
Freaking out, I quickly weaned us both from the nipple shield and endured the hell that is sore, cracked nipples and milk blisters. A couple weeks without the nipple shield and Elodie started to gain some weight. However, I just felt like something was still off; I still wasn’t feeling the “let down” and breastfeeding was still incredibly painful. I did some research on the handy Google machine and discovered Elodie had a slight lip tie that was potentially hindering her ability to latch correctly. Within a week we had confirmed this with our pediatrician (um, hello, why didn’t you see this before?) and an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon took care of it same day with a super cool high tech laser and Elodie didn’t even shed a tear.
But I sure shed a few tears the next day when all of a sudden I was engorged, again! I thought going through engorgement after my milk first came in was enough – but no! Now that Elodie’s latch had improved, apparently it was time for round two. The good news being that this engorgement also came with a letdown and Elodie started to gain substantial weight. The bad news? I developed a stubborn clogged duct in my left breast that just wouldn’t go away.
I tried everything to clear this sucker! Massage, vibration, combing, hot compresses, warm compresses, cold compresses, nursing upside down, pumping upside down – you name it, I did it. I also called my OB looking for guidance when the duct persisted after a week. I was feeling very fatigued and achy and the area around the duct had become quite red and painful. It was pretty obvious to me that mastitis was on the way if it had not already arrived. But the OB’s nurse wouldn’t budge with an antibiotic prescription until I had a fever.
So, being a newbie to breastfeeding I decided to listen to the professionals and tried to wait it out. But another week passed and while I still had no fever, the duct and lump in my breast had gotten worse. And by worse I mean, really bad. Tones of bright red and purple were taking over the left side of the breast and were starting to creep up towards my chest. The skin was so stretched over the lump it was starting to crack and peel.
At the same time this was all going on, Elodie had started to show symptoms of GER (gastroesophageal reflux). She was frequently choking on my surprisingly forceful letdown which seemed to encourage excessive spit-ups and gas, re-swallowing, fussiness at the breast, and colicky behavior. All of a sudden, getting her to sleep had become impossible and she would scream for hours on end. This was quite a low point for my husband and me. Elodie was a hot mess and although I was 6 weeks postpartum, the clogged duct had become so painful I was a hot mess myself. I decided to take matters into my own hands called a breast specialist. Unfortunately they wouldn’t see me until the following week. My husband decided that was not good enough and sent me to urgent care on a Thursday night.
I was seen by a doctor who immediately diagnosed me with mastitis (still no fever, mind you) and then she told me it was on its way to abscessing. So with that lovely information, she sent me on my way with antibiotics and orders to follow-up in 48 hours if conditions had not improved.
ell, of course, conditions did not improve and I wound up in the ER Saturday night trying to get the quickly progressing abscess under control (no fever, y’all). I got an IV drip of a stronger antibiotic and the doctor stabbed my breast with a needle in hopes to drain some of the abscess. Ah, but no luck, nothing came out until the day before my appointment with the breast specialist while I was in the shower - and let me tell you, it is pretty disturbing to see puss suddenly come out of a hole in your breast made by a needle while you are trying to relax in a nice hot shower. This newfound drainage surged every time I fed Elodie or pumped, so you can imagine how much of a pain in the ass it was.
By the time I was getting an ultrasound before my appointment, I was pretty over the whole ordeal. I just wanted someone to fix my breast. To make matters worse, the ultrasound technician called in some random doctor to assess me. He then decided to try to squeeze my breast to get additional puss out. He apparently got a lot out. And while in the long run this turned out to be a good thing, it hurt more than anything I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. And I just had a baby.
But, I finally, FINALLY, saw the breast specialist that afternoon. She attempted to drain it with another needle in another hole, did not have much luck, and sent me on my way to finish my antibiotics and “hang in there”. The next day instead of puss, blood was coming out of the needle holes and I just wanted to curl up into a ball in my bed, but wait, there is a very uncomfortable newborn to tend to!
We got Elodie on the generic of Zantac and started using gas drops. The gas drops definitely did not help and the Zantac seemed to only help a bit. But as time went on her colic symptoms got worse and worse. By week 8 the poor girl seemed to scream 90% of the time. I’d take 5,000 pictures and videos during her short periods of contentment so that I could look back and remind myself of the sweet girl she truly is.
One night a little over a week ago she was literally spitting up every meal, screaming at the breast, and broke out in a bad rash on her chest and cheeks. I was so close to taking her to the ER (new mom alert) but I settled for a call to our peds nurse who said it was just her acid reflux really acting up. So her doctor upped her meds and I decided to take a break from dairy to see if that will help. So far, it seems like it is working. We’ve had a couple great sleeping nights in a row and her rash is beginning to fade. We head back to the doctor tomorrow for her two month check-up.
Two months! All of this has happened in two months. The fourth trimester is not even over but at this point I really feel like I can handle whatever is to come. You truly haven’t lived until you have a baby purple crying in your face feeding from a bleeding breast. By the way, the abscess is still fading away slowly (I got the clogged duct on February 23 rd for reference). It will be amazing when it finally disappears and I so long for the day.
Everyone tells me “it’ll get better” and I know it will. But sometimes it is truly necessary to vent and grieve for the experience you thought you’d have. Now I can move forward and laugh about what we’ve gone through and let me tell you, when I look at little Elodie and see her smile back at me with her blue eyes sparkling, I know I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Julia is a proud INTJ, data analyst, lover of food & wine, video game fanatic, barre & yoga enthusiast, Francophile, and the mother of a very spirited babe named Elodie. They are currently residing in Northern Virginia.