Postpartum: the less talked about part

Postpartum recovery was perhaps a lot less talked about – after all mothers have just met their babies and the love I experienced for my son was describable. However while there are plenty of posts on taking care of newborns, there didn’t seem to be enough on a mother’s recovery journey.

I would say my delivery and recovery were pretty standard – it was an emergency c-section, and by coincident my surgeon was also the doctor in charge of our IVF. I was so happy to see a familiar face when he walked into the hospital room. My son was 3.4kg – and it felt so unreal (or more real!!) when the nurse held him against my skin.

I was in the hospital for a few days – and even though I’ve just had a major surgery, I was still expected to “get up the next day” to take care of my son. I was surprised at how little support I actually had. My husband came in during the day but he wasn’t allowed to stay at night. I was completely on my own and could hardly even walk. It was hard. I wanted to go home as soon as I could just so that I wouldn’t face the night on my own. All that the nurses and midwives cared about was breastfeeding. It didn’t matter much that I just came out of a surgery, my feet were swollen like tree trunks and I could only just make it to the bathroom.

Recovery was mentally and physically draining. Coping with the pain initially and then the ever changing body. My body really wasn’t mine anymore. I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. I needed to focus on that.

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Sick of hearing the word “breastfeed”

It started before my son was even born.

I don’t think I needed to go into details as to how much pressure and unwanted advice on breastfeeding a mother would receive during and after the pregnancy. As if I wasn’t planning to breastfeed and as if I hadn’t already read everything I needed to know about it before my son was born.

It felt like I heard this word 2 million times within the 24 hours of the birth of my son. Multiple midwives, “consultants” came into my room in the hospital, all eagerly tried to “teach” me how to do it. They couldn’t quite believe that nothing came out.

I finally yelled at a midwife at the hospital to give me some formula after trying to feed my son for 3 hours when there simply was nothing. He was so hungry and cried for hours. Her reply cut like a knife, “we don’t give formula willy nilly”.

I lost it and replied that I would NEVER starve my son.

The whole breastfeeding thing has gone so far that it seemed like whether or not a baby was actually HUNGRY wasn’t actually important as long as we breastfeed.

I’m going to say it out loud here – this is insane.

FED IS BEST. END OF.

Pregnancy: The Art of Not Giving a Sh*t

I didn’t think I quite mastered the art of keeping calm and carrying on. If someone had warned me about this particular skill I would’ve been able to take the stupid advice a little easily. Here are some of the funny advice I was given:

Don’t raise your hand above your shoulder (how would I wash my hair then?)
Don’t wash your hair
Eat lots of fish
Don’t eat fish
You’re not eating enough
Hold your nose and eat fish
Don’t let anyone touch your shoulder
Start preparing ginger water for washing your hands with after birth
You must do confinement after birth otherwise your body would be ruined FOREVER
Your newborn might want to choose his own toy
Don’t buy any bottles you wouldn’t need them (thank goodness I ignored this one)
You need a specific nappy bag (I still couldn’t quite believe someone gave me, the bag lady, a piece of advice on bags)
Sleep now (like I was sleeping with all the pregnancy cramps and pain)
Enjoy now while you can (like I enjoyed having my skin torn apart and could hardly walk?)
Don’t drink cold water
Stay in bed for as much as possible
Don’t use epidural (ha!!)

I knew that people didn’t mean any harm, and they just wanted the best for me. I wished I had learned about not giving a f*ck before I was pregnant.

The whole advice thing didn’t really stop there – let’s save them for another post…

Pregnancy: it’s a bad deal

My brain was blank as I stared at the pregnancy test at the bathroom at my work. I had some minor spotting a couple of weeks after the embryo transfer so in a panic I quickly went to the pharmacy to get the pregnancy test. I was advised not to take the test until my next appointment but the wait was unbearable. Everyone in the IVF community had the name for it – Two Week Wait or TWW. It felt like the longest two weeks of my life.

It was positive! Faint but positive.

As ecstatic as I was, the truth was that I didn’t really have a great pregnancy.

One unexpected discovery that I’ve found was that pregnancy and marriage is a really bad deal for women. The more pregnant I was the more heavy this felt.

Why? Because I was gone, and everything else was more important:

Tradition was apparently more important:

  • Baby’s surname: I was expected to use my husband’s surname and so was our baby. Where is me in my baby’s name? “Tradition” deemed that my surname wasn’t important enough to be there.
  • I wanted to use certain words in bub’s middle name but my parents had all kinds of crazy rules about this – it drove me crazy and so I dropped it completely.

I earned less so my career mattered less:

  • I earned a little less than my husband and therefore I would be the one to stop work and miss out possible work opportunities. I couldn’t help but feeling that I was going to be lagging behind. Work structure was built and ran by men so of course money and income was more important than parenting. Both parents having time off to look after a baby? Yea right. In New Zealand women get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. Men get a pathetic 2-week-unpaid leave.

I wasn’t as important as my income:

  • I was about to purchase a hand bag when my husband said that I shouldn’t buy anything because “I” soon wouldn’t have an income. I felt as if I wasn’t making  money then I was not equal in a relationship.

I disappeared:

  • People no longer saw “me” – they saw my baby only, like I wasn’t even there.
  • Sacrificing my body, career, money and time… under appreciated and if these things were just “expected” of me. This really pissed me off.

I fully realised that I was never equal in the relationship. Women already earned less than men in general and having to give up possible opportunities meant that I was even further behind.

These things weren’t exactly news but they really hit me hard this time.

IVF: The Day I Got Pregnant

2 successful embryos! (One of them in the picture above). I was really happy with our result, but I kept telling myself:

One day at a time.

We went back into the clinic and we were informed that I was not be able to get the transfer done straight away – apparently I was at risk of OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome). I couldn’t say that I wasn’t disappointed, but I knew that the best thing for me was to wait for my body to be ready again for the best chance of a successful pregnancy.

The clinic decided that we would have a go again in January, so we promptly booked ourselves a mini holiday to Queenstown. We hoped that it would be the last holiday that we had just the two of us. The next holiday we would be with the additional family member that we’ve hoped for. The clinic has frozen the two embryos.

Late January, we went into the clinic finally for the embryo transfer. We were able to watch the specialist working her magic but I couldn’t really tell what I was looking at! It was a strange day… It was a day that changed our lives forever. My body had taken on the enormous task of growing a human.

One day at a time.

IVF: Egg Collection Day and ICSI

I didn’t actually have to take the medications and the injection for that long – from memory it was about 2 weeks worth. They created a “friendlier” environment for the future embryo and made my body created more eggs for the first big milestone: Egg Collection Day.

We sat nervously at the clinic and I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean I kind of knew from all the research I did but it was hard to imagine it REALLY happening to me. Like now. For real.

We were led to a small room and a very friendly nurse came in to have a chat about the process. She sent my husband away to collect his sperm, and she sat down to put the line into my arm. Except that it was so hard to actually find my vein she had to ask someone else to try again. Another nurse came in and had a go – no luck. This wasn’t really news to me as most people did have trouble finding my vein in the past. So for each blood test I usually ended up getting poked around many times. Soon my room was filled with 4 different nurses discussing how hard it was to find it and they’ve decided to give me heaps of heat packs and blankets to warm me up for the specialist to do it instead.

I changed into a hospital gown and walked into the theatre, tand ried my best not to be nervous. My hands were shaking a little and I felt rather tense. The specialist managed to put the line in, and gave me something “to take the butterfly off”, he said. It worked well. He was friendly and chatty, which eased my anxiousness as well. My husband was there to hold my hand. I purposely didn’t look at the instrument that he had to use to collect the eggs (I’m not going to describe it here!!!). It collected the eggs and transfer them straight into the lab.  It was quite uncomfortable, the specialist talked me through the whole thing and I tried to focused on his voice instead. The process took about 20 minutes.

The scientists at the lab were to examine the eggs and to perform ICSI. They came into my waiting room soon after and said that I had:

18 eggs collected, and
12 were of a good size,
5 ICSI performed successfully

This was a good result given that this was our first round.

Now we waited for the embryos to grow for a few days. I tried to stay as calm as I could and kept myself occupied with other things (of course googling about this was one of the things I did).

I knew the statistics and told myself, one day at a time.

A few days later we got the call – we have TWO successful embryos!!!!

Starting IVF – the pills and needles

The year long wait went very fast – I googled and googled about it daily. Hearing other people’s experience helped me a lot, knowing that I wasn’t on my own. This was also why I started a blog – perhaps my experience would help someone one day like how others had helped me.

For a while I kept thinking that it was my fault somehow, maybe I should have eaten better, maybe I should’ve done more about when I was younger… Endometriosis made me feel as if my body wasn’t mine to control. I was slowly coming into perspective however. Even though this disease was a bit of a monster, I could still enjoy my life most of the month and most of the day. There were people who were in far worse situations and I should be grateful that finally I knew exactly what I was dealing with, and how I could move on.

I got a call from the clinic finally – it was time to start IVF. We went to the clinic and picked up boxes of medications and injections. I have a schedule for when I should take what. I didn’t have a fear for needles but I really really and I mean REALLY, hated taking medications in the pill form so I did sigh quite a bit before taking the medications daily.

I told myself to focus on the big picture. The treatment wasn’t actually that long. My husband sat with me every time I took a pill or an injection. It was weird poking myself with a needle though because my brain was like having some kind of internal conflict – one end was saying “no no no don’t stab yourself with something sharp” at one end and the other end was saying “it’s your medication, do it”. *roll eyes.

One of the pills I received had to be injected “down there” too. It got a bit slippery and shot across the room a couple of times. I wasn’t sure I should laugh or cry… I didn’t ask my husband to be there for this pill!

I was actually glad that I was still going to work over this period – it kept my mind busy. The doctors and nurses were very kind and helpful. I felt that I was looked after well.

I set my sight on egg collection day. I felt at peace with it somehow, like I knew everything would be alright.

 

Pregnancy and Career: on hold or not on hold?

Without even thinking I said to myself, “OK staying where I am for now till the end of the maternity leave at least”.

But then I thought – hang on, why did I just say that to myself?

I’ve always believed in fighting for equality and the fact that I would even go there in the first place bothered me a lot. I wasn’t even pregnant yet.

Would a possible father-to-be ever say that to himself? I highly doubted.

Do women hold themselves back because of the possibility of having a family? I kinda just answered my own question. In my mind I went through a few reasons:

“I need stability”
“What if there are complications”
“New manager wouldn’t like it”

I realised that I needed to change my mindset completely. I needed to focus on the end goal and not the obstacles before it. Why – if I kept my focus on my goals I would eventually get there.

“A new opportunity will be great”
“I have a great support system if there were any complications”
“The new manager will be a true leader that knows that I’m in it for the real game – I will be valued”

Soon after a job opportunity actually popped up. It was in the same company but in a different team. I informed my manager that that I had applied for it. He said to me, “What about your planned IVF treatment?”

“What ABOUT my IVF?” I replied.

He thought about it carefully for a few minutes and said, “It shouldn’t matter anyway”.

“No it shouldn’t”.

Preparing for IVF and (possible) pregnancy: To-Do List

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This was probably the easier part of the year-long-wait for IVF. While thinking about IVF and coming to terms with Endometriosis was exhausting – the things on my actual to-do list weren't actually that bad in comparison.

$$$$$$$$ Money $$$$$$$$
Raising a child is expensive. This news article said that it cost something like NZ$250,000 to raise your child to the age of 18.  I couldn't quite see that far ahead given the whole statistics on IVF, but we could make a start on saving for my maternity leave and the money for baby essentials. We worked out how much money we need to live on comfortably and aimed to save enough money before the start of the treatment.

Career
This one was a funny one. Should I hold my career and stop looking for opportunities? This is a whole other post to come.

Saving leaves
New Zealanders get 4 weeks of paid leave annually. I started saving the paid leaves and used them in conjunction with the parental leaves. This would shorten the amount of unpaid leaves I had to use. My husband also saved his leaves so that he could take as much time off as possible.  In the end he was able to take 4 weeks off.

Maternity leave
Planning on the actual time period of the leave was interesting. How long would I need to actually recover? Natural birth recovery time period vs C Section? Not that it was really a "choice" anyway but a bit of researching to prepare my expectations was helpful. I have had 2 surgeries in the past and I was expecting myself to recover rather slowly. This was going to be the time which I needed to take care of myself, not just the baby. The next question was when would I need to get back to work? We decided that we wanted to spend as much time with bubba as possible after the birth – it was going to be such a precious time and you know, my child was going to be a baby once! Under the law my employer could keep my job for me for a year – so a year it was.

Renovations
Our house was a bit of a doer upper. Throughout the years we've been doing it up slowly. This was a good year for us to finish up the last bedroom of the house – we hoped this bedroom would turn into a nursery.

Holidays!
We booked a couple of mini breaks (we were on a budget after all) to take our minds off these things a bit. Just to clear my mind and to remind myself to see the big picture.

The Year Long Wait: IVF

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The start of the long wait was about this new thing (though it might have been there for a very long time) called Endometriosis, and after getting over the initial shock with it all, my doctor focused us on what was to be ahead of us: In Vitro Fertilisation aka IVF.

I know I should trust my own doctor and not “Doctor Google” but it was difficult not to.  I googled and googled it daily. Not one day went by that I wasn’t thinking about it. Somehow reading other people’s experiences helped me mentally prepared myself for what might be ahead of me. Would it be just one round? Or two rounds? Or more? What would I feel with medication… The posts from other women who had gone through the same experiences helped me to set a more realistic expectation. The statistic might look harsh but in a way it taught me to take one day at a time.

Knowing that I wasn’t the only one meant a lot to me.

I read the booklet I received from the clinic over and over. Looking back interestingly after my son was born I threw it out straight away. It was as if I didn’t really want to remember the details. Or maybe I knew it too well and I didn’t need the booklet anymore.

Earlier on I decided that this wasn’t going to be a secret to my friends and colleagues. It was good to be able to actually share what I was going through. They were my sounding board, they provided me mental support. They understood the significance.

In a way a year really wasn’t all that long. It gave me the time to process it all. It gave me the time to gather my support around me. My doctor actually asked us about whether or not we wanted to pay for it privately earlier and we said no. The long wait turned to be a blessing in disguise.