The Postpartum Symptom Nobody Warned Me About

I thought I was going to ace this whole delivery and postpartum thing. Then just about everything fell apart.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a very Type A personality. I overprepare for everything. When I was a child, my favorite thing to do was making lists. I’m not kidding. I have the journals to prove it. I was that kid.

Needless to say, having a baby wasn’t exactly unexpected. It took a leap of faith and a lot of letting go of the idea that all my ducks had to be in a neat little row. If I waited until I was 100% ready, I would probably never be ready.

Once I became pregnant, I researched everything. Craving salty snacks? *Googles if that means I’m having a girl or boy.* When does morning sickness go away? *Asks every woman I know who has ever been pregnant.* Feet swelling in the first trimester? *Calls OBGYN panicking.*

I obsessively counted baby kicks in the last trimester, read about baby schedules, stocked up my freezer with easy meals, pinned breastfeeding snack recipes on Pinterest (helloooo, Boobie Bites), called the hospital and my insurance company to get estimates on what our bills would look like (LOL if you know our birth story), took a birthing class, breastfeeding class and a newborn care class, typed up a birth plan, etc.

I thought I was going to ace this whole delivery and postpartum thing. Then just about everything fell apart. I’ll save Emerson’s story for a different day, but having your child in the NICU when you weren’t expecting it is enough to throw anyone off.

Instead of resting and enjoying my sweet newborn at home like you’re supposed to do postpartum, I spent the first 3 days at the hospital toddling down the hall back and forth to the NICU to feed and hold my baby. After I was discharged, I didn’t go home (which was 45 minutes to an hour away from the hospital) but instead spent the next three weeks bouncing around from a hotel to the Ronald McDonald House to the RMDH family suite in the hospital and finally to a room in the NICU itself. Basically, I did way more walking around and driving back and forth than I was supposed to. Plus, feeding myself nutritious food was not exactly my highest priority.

Two days before we were scheduled to take Emerson home, I moved to a family room provided by Ronald McDonald House inside the hospital. My husband had already gone back to work the week before. My mom stayed with me for a little while, but also had to go back home. So that night I had to lug all my stuff I’d been carrying around for the past three weeks from my car in the parking garage into the hospital by myself. Not that big of a deal normally, but after giving birth to a 10-pound baby just a few weeks before, with stitches holding together one of the most delicate parts of me, I was weaker than I want to admit.

So when the pain started in my back, I thought I must have overdone it and pulled a muscle. I had back pain and sciatica while pregnant, so it didn’t phase me too much. I laid down on the bed and called to talk to Dallas to distract myself. But it only got worse, spreading like fire in my chest. I remember feeling like I couldn’t move, but kept imagining the walk to the ER, which was just around the corner from my room. I was staying in the suite alone and the RMDH volunteer had already gone home for the night. I felt totally helpless. After about 30 minutes, the pain subsided and I was able to go to sleep, thinking it was weird but assuming it was muscle pain.

The next night, I moved again to a room in the NICU. Emerson was officially discharged and Dallas and I were “rooming in” with him as a trial run before we took him home. Dallas drove up after work and brought me Chipotle. I wore my nursing nightgown and robe that I bought especially for our first night as a family. I was so excited to just watch TV, breastfeed without wires, and finally enjoy some snuggle time together.

A couple hours after we ate dinner, I fed Emerson and laid him down to sleep in his bassinet. Dallas turned the TV on low and we cuddled up for the night. I can’t remember if I fell asleep or not, but the pain I felt the night before was back and this time it engulfed my whole chest.

The only way I know how to describe it is that it felt very similar to labor pain. The way it wrapped around my abdomen felt very much like a contraction, except much higher in my chest. And instead of coming in waves the way contractions do, this pain kept building and building until I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. Not being able to breathe very much caused me to panic. I became nauseous and was having a hard steadying my breath. I asked Dallas to call a nurse, even though I knew I wasn’t technically a patient and the nurse was for Emerson.

Eventually, I made it downstairs to the ER. The nurse paged the Emergency staff and took Emerson (who was still fast asleep by the way) into the nursery. Once in the ER, they assessed me and ordered a CT scan of my heart right away since I kept telling them my chest was tight. After the CT scan, nausea overcame me and I completely emptied my stomach. Like magic, I felt instant relief.

I sat there feeling stupid while the doctor explained that my heart looked normal and that my symptoms were consistent with food poisoning, probably from the Chipotle bowl I ate for dinner. They discharged me and sent me back upstairs before I could argue that I’ve had food poisoning before and it has never felt like that.

The diagnosis didn’t feel right, but I was happy to not be in pain, and even happier that I finally got to bring my baby home. I wanted to forget that entire hospital experience. Once we were home and settled, I told myself I’d follow up with my doctor but life with a new baby kept me in survival mode and my health was not my first priority.

Months went by in the blink of an eye. I occasionally had similar symptoms, but not as severe. I’ve always had a sensitive stomach, so I tried not to worry much about it. I’d pop some antacids and extra strength Tylenol, and sit in bed with a heating pad until the pain subsided. When Emerson was four months old, I decided to completely cut out dairy from my diet because he was having digestive issues and was diagnosed with eczema. His pediatrician recommended that eliminating dairy from my breastmilk might help. And it did; I ended up feeling much better too.

At the beginning of August though, I had another episode. We had just eaten grilled salmon for dinner, put Emerson to bed, and sat on the couch to watch a little TV and eat a few Oreos (which are vegan, by the way) before going to bed ourselves. An hour after eating, I felt the pain come back and this time it kept building up like before. I tried to use a heating pad for relief, took some antacids, and laid down to ride it out but it wasn’t subsiding. Luckily, my mom only lived a couple miles away at the time so we called her to stay with the baby while Dallas drove me to the local ER. I rode the whole way with my head out of the window, dry heaving. Once we got to the ER and they checked me in and asked a billion questions while I’m doubled over in pain, a nurse hooked me up to an IV, gave me a stronger antacid, and explained that the pain medication they were going to give me wouldn’t allow me to breastfeed that night. Before they administered it though, a wave of nausea overtook me and, like before, I emptied my stomach and felt instantly better.

I made a follow-up appointment with my doctor the next week. I told him I suspected gallstones. After doing some research (I already told you that I’m that person who Googles and WebMDs everything) I found out that it’s fairly common for gallstones to develop during pregnancy and lead to attacks postpartum, and that pregnancy itself is a risk factor for gallstones. Losing weight too quickly is also a risk factor.

My doctor reviewed my file from the ER and diagnosed me with gastritis instead. In the ER I was more sensitive on the left side of my abdomen than my right when the doctor examined me. The gallbladder is on the right and the stomach is on the left, so he suspected the pain was caused by an inflammation in my stomach lining. He gave me a prescription that should heal it in 30 days and sent me home without further evaluation.

At first, I was relieved that it was just gastritis, which could be treated with Prilosec and a bland diet for a few week and not gallstones, which might require surgery. It really felt like the medication was helping. However, two weeks in, the pain woke me up at 1:00 in the morning. I sat up with my heating pad, watching Dallas sleep, terrified to wake him and tell him it was happening again. As if not saying it out loud would somehow make it less true. I stayed up for an hour, watching the baby monitor and waiting for it to get worse. It stayed steady and passed, so I figured the medication was doing its job and went back to sleep.

I finished the 30 days of my prescription in October. I was still eating dairy-free and relatively low-fat, but I ended my bland diet and began reintroducing some comfort foods back into my diet. I was also definitely surviving off of coffee every day (because #momlife). A few days later though, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. Emerson was still sound asleep and Dallas had left for work already. It took me a few minutes to realize why I was awake. My abdomen felt like it was burning up from the inside.

I stayed up for about 90 minutes trying to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad. Then it was that bad and I couldn’t sit still. I got up and paced and tried to make my body get rid of whatever it was in my stomach that was making me feel this way. But it had been about 12 hours since I’d eaten, so not much was happening. By some miracle, Emerson chose that day to sleep in a little. I finally called Dallas, not knowing what to do. He told me my mother-in-law was on her way. While I waited, I somehow managed to get Emerson from his crib and breastfeed him. I just kept thinking if I had to go to the ER again, he was going to need milk and there was very little stashed in the freezer.

I waited until about 9:30 before finally asking my mother-in-law to take me to the ER. I pulled breastmilk out to thaw and my sister-in-law stayed with Emerson. I don’t remember how long it took to finally get pain medication, but it felt like forever. When I was pregnant, everyone told me that labor pain would turn me into a monster but I never really felt that way when I delivered Emerson. Maybe because I had nine months to prepare and knew a baby was coming. But this attack was not going to give me a cute, squishy baby. I think at some point I begged the nurse for pain medication. After that, it’s really blurry. I think I slept, but I have groggy memories of an ultrasound and a cat scan.

Guess what they found. Hint: it was gallstones. Maybe Google and WebMD know what they’re talking about sometimes.

It is now the end of November. I have been to a gastroenterologist, had an endoscopy that checked my upper digestive system for any other issues (I also have esophagitis and acid reflux, which could explain feeling tender on my left side), and referred to a surgeon. I’ve been spending time every day pumping and storing breastmilk in my freezer in preparation to have my gallbladder taken out on December 1st. I’ve also had another middle-of-the-night attack since the last ER visit, but thankfully they sent me home with a strong prescription (probably because they’re sick of me coming in bitching about gallstones and pain medication and telling everyone 8 million times that I breastfeed).

I’m now pretty much scared to eat. The attacks can happen at any time but are more likely after a large or fatty or spicy meal. I haven’t really found a particular pattern that triggers one for me so I’ve cut out caffeine, alcohol, dairy, fried foods, fatty foods, and spicy foods. I’m also trying to eat smaller, more frequent meals that are easier for my stomach to digest.

I already mentioned that quick weight loss is a risk factor for an attack, but when you’re scared to eat everything and threatened with the worst pain of your life if you cheat on your diet, you’re going to lose weight. I didn’t weigh myself after birth until I went to my OBGYN at three weeks postpartum, so I don’t really know my initial weight loss. But since then I’ve lost about 50 pounds, 20 of which has been in the last couple of months. Everyone assumes that weight loss = healthy. And even though, yes, I needed to lose the weight, this is not how I’d choose to do it. If I didn’t have issues with food and anxiety before, I definitely have them now. Everyone keeps telling me how great I look and I want to say, “Thanks, but I’m f*cking miserable!” but I’m trying not to come across that crazy so I bite my tongue.

I’m not really sure what the takeaway from this post is, other than to explain what’s been going on with me and why I’ve lost so much weight. I always strive to be honest here and on my social media and I don’t want to contribute to the idea that women need to pop out babies and shed those pounds immediately. I don’t want anyone to compare their real life to my highlight reel on Instagram (because I know I catch myself doing that and have to actively remind myself how I may come across on social media). I didn’t get to join in on everyone’s Thanksgiving feasts this year. All I want in the world is the ability to eat a cookie on Christmas and not be scared that I’ll be in pain later. I also haven’t heard many women talk about gallbladder problems postpartum even though my surgeon tells me it’s extremely common, so if I can help one person be more aware then I’ve done my job.

I promise to update you all on my surgery. It should be a quick outpatient procedure and I’ll be home recovering for a few days. My biggest fears revolve around Emerson. My surgeon advised me not to breastfeed that day (which is why I’m saving up as much milk as possible) and I can’t lift him for a few days either. He’s been experiencing some major separation anxiety lately, so I’m not sure how he’s going to take that. Wish me luck! And if you’ve ever had gallbladder problems or any weird postpartum symptoms, I’d love to hear from you. Comment below!

xx

Jordana

Emerson’s Birth Story | Part 1

The whole way there I told him, “They’re going to tell me I peed myself and send me home. Stop freaking out.” Although I was starting to feel light contractions in the car, I was still in denial. Once we got there and registered, I could feel the contractions getting stronger. Dallas was helping me change into a hospital gown when the rest of my water broke all over the bathroom. This time I was sure that I wasn’t peeing myself. I looked at him and the nurse and finally admitted, “okay…maybe I’m in labor.”

I decided to split this up into two parts because this story spans 25 days. In my head though, even now, it’s hard to separate my labor from all that unfolded after he was born, but here goes.

My pregnancy was fairly easy, as far as pregnancies go. (Okay, all pregnancies are hard. Birthing babies is hard.) But I didn’t have any complications. My symptoms were all pretty normal. I was hormonal as hell, and toward the end, I was HUGE but compared to what other women have gone through, I can’t complain too much. At 39 weeks though, I was so over being pregnant and ready to get him OUT.

 

 

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Taken January 3rd, right at 38 weeks.

 

On Sunday, January 15th, Dallas and I headed to see an 11:30 a.m. showing of La La Land and then to his dad’s house for football and family dinner. It was two days before my due date, so I already had the car packed in case I needed to head to the hospital. Sure enough, right about kick-off, my water broke.

My OBGYN told me a million times that my labor wouldn’t happen like it does in the movies, that my water most likely wouldn’t break first, if at all. I’d been having some really small contractions here and there for a few days, but nothing regular or worth timing, so I definitely didn’t see this coming. I’m not going to lie, I thought I peed myself right there on my in-laws’ couch (#thirdtrimesterproblems). I got up to go to the bathroom and more came out, but I still wasn’t convinced that it was my water leaking, so I tried to play it cool and quietly asked Dallas to get me new underwear from my hospital bag in the car. Other important, embarrassing details: I was wearing a maxi skirt and a maternity thong because that’s literally all I could fit at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant. So yeah, it was not pretty.

But because it’s impossible for me not to worry, I decided to call the after-hours number my doctor gave me and let a nurse know something might be happening. Try calling up a total stranger and saying “I’m not sure if I peed myself or what but…” without laughing. She told me to go the hospital to be checked just in case. We live south of Austin (closer to San Antonio really) but when I became pregnant I was working in Austin and had been seeing my doctor there since I was 21, so I decided to stick with her for delivery. It’s about an hour drive to the hospital without traffic. Dallas was so excited, he got us there in 40 minutes!

The whole way there I told him, “They’re going to tell me I peed myself and send me home. Stop freaking out.” Although I was starting to feel light contractions in the car, I was still in denial. Once we got there and registered, I could feel the contractions getting stronger. Dallas was helping me change into a hospital gown when the rest of my water broke all over the bathroom. This time I was sure that I wasn’t peeing myself. I looked at him and the nurse and finally admitted, “okay…maybe I’m in labor.”

At this point, I made Dallas go back to the car to get the hospital bag (I really was convinced that I was going to be sent home) and called my mom so she could meet us there. I was only 1 cm dilated (and had been since my doctor checked me two weeks earlier). Since my water was broken, I was given 12 hours to go into active labor on my own or the doctor was going to put me on Pitocin to speed things up. With my water broken, I was at a greater risk of infection so the goal was to get the baby out within 24 hours.

My birth plan was slowly unraveling. I had planned on an unmedicated birth, ideally laboring at home for as long as possible. I wasn’t completely opposed to an epidural, but my goal was to try to do without. My water had broken at about 3:45 p.m. so I had until 3:00 a.m. to make some significant progress. The doctor suggested trying Cervidil first, a vaginal insert (much like a tampon) with time-released medication that helps to gradually soften, thin, and dilate the cervix. I agreed, they inserted it and set up external fetal monitoring. Fun fact: my belly was so large and Emerson was curled up in a little ball right in the middle of my abdomen, so the monitor kept slipping off. He also kicked and moved away from it, so the nurses had to keep adjusting. He was so not ready to come out yet!

In the beginning, labor was actually kind of fun. The contractions felt more like PMS cramping, and I was just super pumped that it was finally happening. I watched so many birthing videos on YouTube in my third trimester that I was more excited than scared at this point. We listened to music (of course I had a birthing playlist), watched football, and talked about finally meeting Emerson. Eventually, the contractions got stronger and closer together, so we started timing them on our own (even though the hospital’s monitor was also tracking them). At some point, a nurse came to check me again and the fun stopped. I was barely making any progress, even though it sure felt like I was.

Things get a little blurry for me after that. Eventually, I couldn’t talk through the contractions anymore. Dallas and my mom took turns holding my hand and coaching me through them. At some point, I couldn’t stand the football game being on anymore. The sun went down and it started to rain, and that became my focal point. The only way I could get comfortable was laying on my side facing the window. I watched the lightning dance across the sky while the trees swayed to the beat of the thunder. I tried to sing along with my labor playlist. I remember hearing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon, “Naked As We Came” by Iron & Wine, and of course, “Blue” by the queen herself (Beyonce). I still have this playlist and every time I listen to it, all the emotions come flooding back. (Comment below if you’re interested and I’ll post it sometime.)

Eventually, the playlist ended and I couldn’t focus on it anymore anyway. The contractions kept rolling closer together until it felt like they were crashing into one another. I asked a nurse about it and she said I was having double-peak contractions. Because of the double-peak, they were lasting about 2 minutes long and only about 90 seconds apart.

Now my memory is really a blur. The pain was definitely taking over. I remember Dallas holding my hand and my mom rubbing my head, playing with my hair the way she did when I was young and had a bad dream or when I was a teenager and was broken-hearted over a boy. I kept envisioning the sweet face of a little boy I wanted to meet so desperately.

 

 

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Shoutout to my husband for risking his life to capture this photo without me knowing. Even though I’m glad I have it now, had I known it was being taken, I probably would have broken his hand. 

 

 

Three a.m. crept up on me and it was time to check my progress. At this point, it had been almost 12 hours since my water broke. My hope shattered when they said I was only 3 cm dilated. The doctor wanted to start me on Pitocin no later than 5:00 a.m. Had there not been the looming threat of Pitocin making my labor pain more intense, I probably would have soldiered on at least a little longer without pain medication, but shortly after 4:00 a.m. I asked for an epidural. I hadn’t slept at all since the night before and still had 7 cm to go before I could begin pushing. I’ll spare you the details of having a large needle inserted into my back while I’m shaking from contractions. Oh, and the catheter insertion (fun stuff).

I spent the rest of the night attempting to sleep. I could still feel my abdomen tightening with each contraction and I was shaking, but the sweet relief of no more pain was wonderful. I don’t really know if you could call it sleeping, but I laid still with my eyes closed listening to the storm rage on outside and Dallas’s soft snores next to me.

When I woke, the morning shift nurses came in to introduce themselves. They helped me position myself to guide Emerson to drop a little more. That’s right, that sweet baby boy of mine was still not ready to come out, even after I was fully dilated and effaced. (If you know how much of a stubborn mama’s boy he is now, it makes total sense.) When it came time to push, it was a little before 11:00 a.m. I was exhausted but more than ready. I had Dallas and my mom on one side of me, and the sweetest delivery nurse coaching me on the other side. I heard so many stories of women who said that once they had an epidural they couldn’t figure out how to push, but that wasn’t my experience. I don’t know how to explain it exactly; I didn’t feel pain, but I did feel an enormous amount of pressure. And I could feel the top of my abdomen contract so I knew when to push.

Twenty-five minutes of sweaty groaning and a room full of people cheering me on, and suddenly he was outside of me. I distinctly remember the nurses saying “He just keeps coming!” and “Oh, those feet!” Dallas told me later that he looked like a little baby elephant coming out.

A room full of faces smiling and crying with relief and all I wanted to see was his face. A moment later he was on my chest, crying his sweet newborn cries, his head tucked under my chin, my arms finally wrapped around him. 10 pounds, 5 ounces, 22 and a quarter inches long. A full head of hair. Button nose. Beauty mark on the inside of his ankle. Little potato feet and the chubbiest cheeks I’ve ever seen. He latched onto my breast like a little pro. (He still loves his mama’s milk more than anything.) I looked at Dallas with tears in both of our eyes and said, “Look what we made.”

We were all in shock at his size, including my doctor and all the nurses. At 36 weeks he measured well over 7 pounds. The sonographer checked and double checked, thinking that couldn’t be right. My doctor was not at all concerned and reassured me that those measurements weren’t always accurate. She said she wouldn’t schedule a C-section unless he was measuring over 10 pounds…

Y’ALL. I carried and pushed out a 10-pound 5-ounce baby. And afterward, I ate the greatest cup of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwich, and brownie I’ve ever had in my life. Honestly, it’s the most badass thing I’ve ever done.

I’m ending this post on a positive note because it’s the ending this story deserves. (It’s the ending I deserved.) Stay tuned for Part 2, when I’ve emotionally recharged enough to recount it.

 

xx,

Jordana

Why I Stopped Blogging

I’ve decided to start this blog back up because I need more in my life. I always have. This is my creative outlet. And now, more than ever, I have stories to tell. They’ve been burning up inside me for well over a year, and I’m ready to share.

Well, hi there. This is awkward. You might be wondering where I’ve been (or maybe not). Or more likely, you follow me on social media and know where I’ve been, but not why I stopped writing.

I could easily say that I’ve been too busy to keep up with a blog, but the truth is I’m much busier now than I ever was before. I’m a mom now (more on that later). In fact, I stopped blogging right before I found out I was pregnant last year. I quit my job in marketing when I was about 20 weeks pregnant and have been a stay-at-home mom for the past 9 months. I just started working again from home, as a part-time personal stylist. I’m busy from the time I open my eyes in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night (and sometimes in between those times, too).

So if I’m being honest with myself (and you), I stopped blogging because it required me to be vulnerable. Pregnancy and giving birth made me feel more vulnerable than I ever have in my life. Before that, whatever happened to me happened to only me. Now, if something happens to me, it greatly affects the little human that relies on me to take care of them 24/7. That is terrifying to me. I didn’t want to blog while pregnant because it would open me up to all sorts of judgment and criticism. My anxiety jumped to a whole new level when I became a mom too. An anxiety that told me I don’t know what I’m talking about and no one cares about what I think (again, I’ll talk more about that in another post).

Despite all those new negative changes in me, becoming a mom also made me more confident, more willing to fight the judgment and criticism. It’s this fierce mama bear instinct that I didn’t know was inside of me until I grew and pushed another human out of me. How could I not be more confident? Look at him. I made that.

I’ve decided to start this blog back up because I need more in my life. I always have. This is my creative outlet. And now, more than ever, I have stories to tell. They’ve been burning up inside me for well over a year, and I’m ready to share. I hope you’ll stay tuned. I promise I’ll keep writing as long as you keep listening.

xx

Jordana

Photo by Vanessa Mendez Photography