Motherhood Stories – Topless and Confused

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Topless and Confused.

That’s how I describe my first weeks or perhaps month post-partum. My sweet little baby boy is just now two months old and quite frankly, I am only slightly less topless and slightly less confused.

As I reflect, I cannot believe how ill prepared I was for that moment I became a mom. Not the part where you are basically hit by a truck with how much you love this little human. No, I was prepared for that. For the moment you realize your life will never be the same and you as a person will never be the same. I knew the gravity of the decision my husband and I made to create this sweet little life and I knew how vulnerable and magical it would be. I’ve heard it described as having your heart walking around outside your body. That’s the stuff I signed up for, to have my heart broke wide open, to live with no skin, to feel the magic that is being a mama. What I wasn’t prepared for, was how difficult it would be to know how to care for that heart and to keep it beating with really no knowledge or practice.

I was stellar at being pregnant. Exercised, ate better than ever, practiced yoga, journaled and really enjoyed every single moment. I’ve never felt or looked better, and truthfully, being pregnant was the most empowering experience of my life and I literally glowed. My husband and I connected like never before, I softened some of my rough edges and became an even better partner. I checked off lists and learned from my daily apps; I was really nailing the whole process of growing a human.

Next up: Birth. We took a natural birthing class and a breastfeeding class, got CPR certified, and hired a doula to support us during labor and birth. She helped us to create the ideal birth plan intended to minimize interventions and maintain connection. Man, we were feeling pretty good and maybe even a little smug.  When we were scheduled to be induced, we checked into the hospital with essential oils, a yoga mat, a killer playlist and several other items to ensure the ideal welcome party for our little man. We invited an all-star support team to facilitate a safe and natural birth. We had our doula, my dear friend who is a massage therapist and Reiki practitioner, her husband who is the most calming human I know and, to capture this incredible journey, Jenn Bartell, our talented birth photographer. After my water broke at 8 a.m. we invited these dear people to join us and we remained in great spirits listening to music, resting and sharing stories. The nurses kept commenting on how wonderful the ambience was and how amazing our people were. It was a beautiful scene to calmly welcome our son into the world surrounded by love. 

Well, I think you can see where this is going. After the Pitocin was introduced, the wheels came off. Hour by hour, we checked off a new intervention that we had hoped to avoid. After being in the hospital for 30 hours and labor for 19, it was determined that our sweet boy wasn’t going to budge and I need to have a cesarean section.  

At 9:13 p.m. Anderson Leonhardt Wohlfarth ‘Leo’ was welcomed into the world, weighing 8lbs, 2 oz. He was perfect. He is still perfect. Oh man, I knew he would be cute and I would be smitten, but let me tell you- his little face was even better than I could have dreamed.

There in the operating room, I made him a promise to try not to make him weird with how much I love him. I am not sure I can keep that promise.

Even as our Birth ‘Plan’ unraveled, it was still perfect because we welcomed a healthy baby boy, safely into the world. What happened next was what caught me completely off guard. 

You see, our support team, the doctors and the nurses trusted US to care for this little human. They handed over our baby all too willingly. After everyone oooohed and awed over Leo, we were wheeled to our dimly lit recovery room. Alone. Just the three of us. It was now past midnight and we had been awake for 40 or so hours, so it was expected that we would now sleep. 

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Nope. What. The. Hell. Do we do now?  This perfect angel was now in the world. He had been safe and protected inside me for the past 10 months. For the 40 hours prior to this moment, he had been closely monitored- we knew his heart was beating and he was thriving. Now, he was in a cold acrylic bassinet next to my bed. Do I need to remind everyone that hours before this baby was ‘breathing’ amniotic fluid and is now expected to just know how to breathe oxygen?!  Where are the monitors? Where is my doula to read his heart rate out to me as I sleep, just as she did during labor? But, don’t worry everyone, because he was swaddled. The nurses assured me that the double swaddle was all he needed to keep warm and secure as he slept. I wasn’t buying it.

My husband was more exhausted than I had ever witnessed. He’s one of those people who never complains, takes care of everyone with food and love and when he’s tired, he just digs deep and gives more. So, I was shocked when he lay down on the weird pullout chair/bed and passed out.

I was beside myself, still reeling from the magic of finally meeting Leo, having a major surgery and feeling the effects of whatever drugs they gave me. I was itching like an addict, when the nurse came in and tilted that plastic box on an angle. She explained that this would prevent Leo from choking, because choking is the top concern for babies in their first 30 days.  EXCUSE ME?  Where was that in my birthing class, on my apps or from any of my mom friends?

So, now, Leo was in a plastic box,  that was at what seemed to me to be an extreme tilt and because of that magic swaddle, he looked like he was going to simply fall forward and out onto the floor. I was terrified to hold him, because I knew I needed sleep and I didn’t want to fall asleep with him as the drugs seeped out of my system. I could barely reach his ‘bassinet’ as it was just far enough from my bed, my legs were numb and my husband was passed out. I caught the edge with a finger and wheeled it close enough so that I could see Leo breathe. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that it was now my job to make sure he was breathing, and so we spent our first night.

The next few days, it became even clearer how little I knew. This was never more evident than when Leo taught me about cluster feeding and he nursed continuously the entire second night of his life. At 5 a.m. the next morning, the nurse explained this phenomenon like it was no big deal…..no big deal if you have iron nipples and don’t mind running on little to no sleep for 72 hours. I remember nipple shields getting only a very small mention in the breastfeeding class I took. They should have been the headliner.

That day, I made the decision that we were moving into the hospital. Our doctors visited me and Leo, daily. The lactation consultants came by multiple times and whenever we called the nurse, she brought us diapers, for both Leo and I, and juice boxes, for me. My doctor looked at me like I was crazy when I asked to extend our stay, but he let us stay one more day before sending us into the world.

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Our first few days at home were filled with a lot of love, but mostly with anxiety and confusion.  I stayed awake at night while Leo slept on my chest and Googled the famous Fourth Trimester and baby sneezes, among other things.  When we took Leo to his first doctor’s appointment, I was lucky to find shoes or pants that fit my swollen body. We were 30 minutes late, so we rushed into the building and I was quickly reminded that I had experienced a major surgery just days earlier as I stopped short of tears in the lobby. We undressed Leo for the nurse to take his weight and then had to wait for the doctor. That’s when we realized we hadn’t packed a blanket in the diaper bag. So, my incredibly capable, successful and smart husband, held Leo’s onesie up to cover as much of him as he could. The next day when we returned to the doctor, my husband packed the diaper bag full of several blankets, the nursing cover, nipple shields, but no diapers.

We had to return to the doctor so quickly because Leo had lost 17% of his weight since birth. Due to the induction and c-section, I had been pumped full of saline for 20+ hours and as a result, so was he. His birth weight was inflated and as he lost the liquid and waited for my milk to come in, his weight took a dive. On the next visit, his weight had shown improvement and our doctor reassured us that things were improving. I cried and hugged her.

We cancelled almost all visitors for the next several weeks and only allowed those in who didn’t mind seeing me topless as I was constantly nursing and juggling the baby, nipple shields and lanolin. I would walk around our home with my nursing pillow strapped around my waist so that I was ready to nurse at any moment. I looked like a topless old fashioned cigarette girl.

At 36 years old, it’s rare that I take on much with which I am completely inept. I am a fairly capable and successful human, both professionally and personally. I have completed marathons and an ultra marathon, I know how to train, prepare and achieve. At least, that’s what I thought before giving birth. I spent months planning, nesting and hyping up my progress on Instagram with monthly photos comparing my growing baby to fruit or French pastries. But, I have never been so humbled. Humbled by this process and by this beautiful little being who has mastered breathing on his own, eating and is packing on the pounds as I type.

As the hormones have calmed and I’ve gotten more sleep, the anxiety has dissipated and I find myself less topless and able to manage my nursing bra with more ease. I am also less confused, I am starting to trust myself more and more as a mother.  Of course, the reason the not knowing felt so dire was because the stakes are so high. Looking at my heart beating outside of my body, every decision feels so critical. I am so lucky to be surrounded by an incredible partner and a village of women and sisters, who didn’t mind visiting while I was constantly topless. Dear friends who brought food, realistic advice (in the right dose) and who constantly cheered me on, insisting I was doing a great job. After a while, I even started to believe them! I am truly not meaning to be self-deprecating, but becoming a mom for the first time is like the time I saw a video of myself doing karaoke. I didn’t expect to be good, but, I just didn’t think I would be that bad!  The words of encouragement from my husband and those amazing mamas really helped me to get through some of the harder moments.

Yesterday, we had Leo’s 2 month doctor’s appointment and all three of us really nailed it – 15 minutes early, well prepared and most importantly, Leo is exactly where he is supposed to be. Our little love is thriving!  Our little family is thriving; we are Googling slightly less, enjoying more of the process and even more in love with our tiny human.

When I look down at Leo as he nurses and see him curved perfectly around my soft belly where he clearly belongs, with those chubby cheeks that we have worked so hard to fill, confusion starts to make way for confidence. We are doing more than a few things right.

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