This weekend, I took Hannah to the zoo with a friend & her kiddos. While hanging out and letting the kiddos run around (or in Hannah’s case, practice standing) in the air conditioned and therefore best exhibit in the zoo, the Orangutans, we ran into a couple who was there with their tiny one month old baby. As we chatted and they expressed how they just needed to get out of the house and walk around, I was immediately taken back to when PJ & I were in the exact same situation with our 3 week old Hannah.
We chatted about breastfeeding struggles, lack of sleep, and all the crazy aspects of what I fondly look back on as the newborn fog. We talked about how insanely difficult it is to latch a newborn to your boob in public when you can't even see them because you're trying to stay modest under a nursing cover. I remember those early days so clearly and so distantly at the same time, because it really was a fog. There were so many high highs, and so many intensely overwhelming and anxiety filled moments as well.
Since I have already documented my birth story, I wanted to take some time to document my postpartum experience as well. Everyone has different experiences, but for me, postpartum was by far the most difficult part of my pregnancy / birth / becoming a parent experience. It was also the part I had given the least thought to, since prior to having a child, it's very hard to imagine and prepare for what things will be like post-birth.
Immediately after giving birth, I felt like a rockstar. That epidural was clearly still working well because I was on a high, and didn't feel anything but pure joy and excitement over what had just happened. I was able to walk to our postpartum room unassisted, and was genuinely feeling like the hardest part was behind me. Little did I know that a few days later, I'd be saying I would give birth all over again in comparison to how I was struggling through postpartum.
I don't want to paint a miserable picture, because honestly, for every difficult moment there were far more beautiful moments of just marveling at the new little being in front of me. That's what was magical about my newborn fog experience, the joy was still so tangible even amidst the difficulty of it all. After a hard day, I would always look back in my camera roll (because you bet I was taking hundreds of pictures a day) and remember that the day wasn't all bad, there were always sweet moments captured to remind me of that.
48 hours after giving birth, I was sore all over my body. My legs were sore, my stomach muscles were sore, my back was sore, my arms were sore and my boobs were sore. Everything hurt! My body was recovering from just giving birth, my boobs were quite literally torn up from breastfeeding, and my arms were adjusting to carrying a newborn around all day. I remember wondering if I would ever feel normal again, which sounds a little dramatic but at this point, everything felt unknown.
When you're pregnant, you know the end result is a baby. You don't know exactly how that baby will arrive, whether by vaginal birth or C-section, whether early, on time, or late, or whether naturally or induced. But you know that baby's coming out one way or another! What I didn't realize was how much unknown would be involved in my first postpartum experience.
Would it always hurt to pee? Would my boobs always be uncomfortable from now on? Would the damage from my daughter's tongue tie ever fully heal? How long until I can comfortably walk longer distances? What's the difference between postpartum depression & baby blues? I had been put on blood pressure medication after needing to be induced for high blood pressure, and when my levels didn't go down after those first few weeks, I wondered if I'd always need to be on medication. There was so much unknown, and even though countless people reassured me that yes I would heal, and yes my boobs would feel normal one day, and yes my blood pressure would go down, it's one of those things where unless you've experienced it, it's hard to know for sure. And I'm sure the hormones didn't help with my naturally worst case scenario thinking.
I remember feeling much more comfortable and "myself" when I was around other people. Some people prefer to cocoon and stay isolated for a bit after having a baby, but for me I craved company and visitors. I loved having people over, and I really loved having my mom stay with us for a bit. It helped break up the routine, and socializing helped me focus on all the exciting and positive thoughts in my head. It was when the night hit when isolation and baby blues would surface, which I now know is extremely common & normal. I remember feeling a general sense of heaviness as the sun would set, like night time meant being alone with my feelings. Every night I would countdown the hours / feedings until 5AM passed, then I'd feel a rush of energy and excitement that came with a new day. Daylight would bring with it a flood of all the positive emotions, and nighttime seemed to do the opposite.
In those early weeks, I switched off between our rocker, couch and bed. I would have one breastfeeding position that felt semi-natural, and I'd stick with it for a few weeks until a new one would feel a little more natural. At some point, I stopped needing to use the hospital grade underwear and ginormous pads. Eventually, it stopped hurting to pee. My boobs no longer felt crazy uncomfortable from engorgement. I could actually enjoy a hot shower. After a few weeks, my blood pressure went back into normal range and I was able to stop taking the medication. We got Hannah's tongue tie revised, and the damage to my boobs finally healed (after 10 looong weeks). The nights gradually stopped feeling as intense.
At some point, I started feeling like myself again. And not just myself emotionally, but physically too. Both of those things took time.
When I saw that couple at the zoo, I felt so much compassion for them. I may not know exactly what they're going through because we all experience becoming parents differently, but I can empathize with the intensity of it all.
I could have sat with them and talked to them for hours, but I recognized that not everyone wants to sit and have a deep heart to heart with a stranger (shocking, I know). Instead, I looked at my big beautiful 10 month old girl, and looked back at them. "It gets better," I said.
And it does. Whatever struggle you face in the postpartum period, it gets better. Breastfeeding gets easier. Your body heals. You eventually will get more sleep. The hormones feel less crazy. And as all of those things settle down, one thing amplifies: your love for your child.
Hey, friends! Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there.
Today, I want to talk a little expectation vs. reality. This day can carry quite a bit of expectation for us mamas, and sometimes you don't even realize the expectations you have until you find yourself disappointed that they weren't met. And then, you're already in a tizzy over that when you scroll through social media and see dozens of pictures of everyone else's Mother's Day festivities. It's easy to fall into the comparison game and suddenly you find yourself in a really crappy mood on a day that was supposed to be all about celebrating all you do as a mom.
Expectations are weird. They can be so subliminal and sneak up on you, can't they? I had this happen to me on this Mother's Day, and it wasn't in the way you'd probably expect. It had nothing to do with the festivities or celebrations. I really didn't need much there; I love every day with my little family (especially Sundays) and I truly mean it when I say my sweet Hannah is already the best gift I could have gotten. Although PJ did get me the most meaningful card and a thoughtful gift, so props to you there babe.
When PJ asked me what I wanted on this day, I said "a little extra time to get ready in the morning before church." I had a grand vision of getting all cute by picking out an outfit I'd feel confident in and taking time to do my hair & makeup, two things I hardly do these days. All I really wanted on this first Mother's Day, besides time with my little family, was a cute picture of me & my girl. Minimal expectations, right?
If you saw this post on social media yesterday, you'd probably think I got my picture. But what you can't see from a picture is the insecurity that reared its ugly head as I got ready. You can't see that I heavily debated this outfit, and felt like there wasn't a single thing in my closet I felt confident in. You can't see that as I did my makeup, I felt like a young girl playing with her mom's makeup because I have no idea what I'm doing anymore. You can't see that I tried really hard to do a braid in my hair to feel a little more put together, but it looked like this:
You can't see that I'm kicking myself for not incorporating working out into my routine, even though I have no idea how to do that right now with working and pumping / breastfeeding and mom'ing every day. You can't see that I'm thinking "maybe next Mother's Day I'll have my confidence back." You can't see that it's taking serious self-control not to speak negative words about my body, because I want to practice that now so that my daughter won't replicate that process for herself. You can't see that I'm fighting a mental battle trying to have love and acceptance for my body and appearance.
The reality is, out of all the pictures taken on this Mother's Day, my absolute favorite and the one I feel the most confident in is the one taken first thing in the morning. The one where I'm still in my glasses & nursing nightgown. The one where I don't have any makeup on, and my hair is getting pulled as my daughter's simultaneously drooling on my hand. The one that perfectly captures motherhood, and my sweet joyful girl in all her glory.
There's something really great about not being able to see insecurity in a picture. Because one day, I'll look back at the pictures from my first Mother's Day Sunday and I won't see any of the mental yuck that was going on in my head. Instead, I'll see a new mom celebrating a special day with her beloved baby girl and wonderful husband. I'll see a tangible representation of all I have to be thankful for.
But just in case you're a new mom (or a not so new mom, or maybe not a mom at all) and struggling with feeling confident in your skin, I share this to say you're not alone. It's real easy to see smiling faces on social media and feel like no one goes through the same mental battles that we do. It's easy to compare your insecurities to what you perceive as someone else's strength.
So here's to fighting through the mental yuck to love ourselves exactly where we're at. Here's to acknowledging that we all have insecurities, but also pledging to do our best not to let those insecurities warp the lense through which we see ourselves. Here's to taking pictures even when we don't feel like it, because if we only take pictures when we feel "camera ready" then we might rarely have pictures with us in them. And sometimes, just like for me on this Mother's Day, the very best pictures end up being the ones where we're in our pajamas and not at all "put together." Maybe being perfectly put together is overrated, anyway.
At 3:16PM on Monday, December 3, 2018, Hannah Laine Cosentino made her grand entrance into the world. I have been wanting to document her birth story ever since, and I'm hoping given 5 months have passed, I can do it justice. Giving birth was the most incredible experience of my life, and I am so grateful for how every detail unfolded.
It all started when I woke up on Sunday, 4 days past my due date and starting to *possibly* exhibit early labor symptoms. I say *possibly* because that was the big question of the day: was I in labor, or not? I never quite realized how much I prefer things black & white until I was in the grey area of early labor. Everything felt uncertain, and that drove. me. crazy.
Was I leaking amniotic fluid? Was that a contraction? If so, when did it start? Am I timing it correctly? They can't possibly be that close together already, can they?
But now I'm getting ahead of myself. I started the day on the phone with my doula talking about how it kind of felt like I was leaking amniotic fluid. (Side note: I was not. Feeling like you're leaking is just a thing when you're 40+ weeks pregnant, ha!) She encouraged me to keep going about my day, and call her if anything changed. So that's what we did, we ran errands and I can distinctly remember feeling my first maybe-contraction as we were walking around Target. We were driving home when I announced I was craving an iced chai latte, and not just any chai latte, but one from my favorite coffee shop that was a tad out of the way. PJ did what any husband would do for his very pregnant wife, and agreed to satisfy the craving. Between the coffee shop & the drive home, I felt multiple other maybe-contractions.
Towards the end of my pregnancy, everyone would ask me, "have you felt any Braxton Hicks?" "I don't think so?" I would reply. And I was always told the same thing: "You'll know when it's a contraction."
Well my friends, that exact saying is what drove this overdue pregnant lady bonkers the morning and early afternoon of December 2. My doula encouraged me to start timing these maybe-contractions, and it drove me crazy how uncertain I felt about everything. I would second guess if I started my timer at the right time, if I ended my timer at the right time, and if what I felt was even a contraction to begin with. My maybe-contractions were already only a few minutes apart, that couldn't be right, could it? They weren't that painful, so were these the real deal? Everything felt the opposite of black and white, and I was overwhelmed by it. My doula could sense the anxiousness in my voice, and encouraged me to go get checked at the hospital so I could get some clarity on what exactly was going on.
Because it was a Sunday, we didn't have the option of going to my doctor's office. So we nervously packed up our things and our dogs to drop off at a friend's house, and off to the hospital we went. I felt so silly the whole drive there. You see the movie clips of the woman screaming as they're driving to the hospital, and the husband speeding to make it in time. I wasn't even sure if I was feeling real contractions, so needless to say I felt pretty dumb going to the hospital.
We got set up in Triage and all the monitors were hooked up to me when I felt another maybe-contraction. The nurse pulled back the curtain and said "well, you just had a contraction!" Tears welled up in my eyes as relief came over me. I wasn't crazy, and I wasn't wrong. I wasn't sure like they all said I'd be, but I was feeling real contractions. And they really were coming just a few minutes apart.
I was still only a centimeter dilated (like I had been for weeks), so I would have gotten to go labor at home if it wasn't for the beeping on the monitor that indicated high blood pressure. They monitored me in Triage for close to an hour, checking my blood pressure several times and taking a blood sample to test for preeclampsia (which was negative). My pressure didn't go down, so after about 45 minutes the nurse pulled the curtain back and said "Well, you're staying and having a baby!"
You would think for a 4 days past due pregnant lady, these would be the best words I could have heard. But as we walked from Triage to my hospital room, my face turned white and my eyes welled with tears. When we got to our room, PJ put his arms on my shoulders. I couldn't hold the tears back as I looked him in the eyes and expressed my fear; I had to give birth. It was time.
As encouraging as PJ was, I knew what would really calm my fear was talking to a friend who had already pushed a baby out and loved it so much she was going to do it again in a few months. I called Colleen, and she sweetly came to the hospital to bring PJ dinner and hang out with us for a bit to ease my nerves. My family was on their way from California, my doula was getting ready to head to the hospital, and my induction was getting started. Hannah was coming.
Colleen left just before my doula arrived around 9PM, and let me tell you, my doula was a Godsend. My induction was about 4 hours in at this point so my maybe-contractions were now definite-but-not-crazy-painful contractions. My doula brushed and braided my hair, massaged my temples to ease a headache, and helped me get onto a yoga ball now that I had permission to do so (high blood pressure meant many of the ways I envisioned laboring were not allowed). She entered my room, snapped into action, and brought with her a calming and empowering presence.
To any expecting mamas, I cannot emphasize how much I would recommend getting a doula. I wanted my labor to be as peaceful as possible, and I didn't want to solely rely on my husband who was as inexperienced as I was in this area. Kate (my doula) was especially helpful given that I labored over night. She encouraged PJ and I to sleep, and while PJ could, I couldn't. Kate kept me company all throughout the night, allowing PJ to be as well rested as he could be and ready to support me when the real action started.
My contractions got really intense around 5AM. I wanted to be checked so I could gage whether it was time to get my epidural, or if I needed to prepare myself to labor intensely for another few hours. The doctor said the protocol for my particular induction method was to wait 12 hours before checking me, which would have meant waiting until 9:30AM. One of the ways Kate really assisted me was helping me utilize my voice, so I decided to ditch the protocol and get checked for my own sanity. I was at a whopping 3 centimeters.
The doctor offered me pain medication to allow me to sleep for a bit, and I graciously accepted. For all my mama friends who have given birth medication-free, you rock! For me, it was welcomed relief. PJ climbed into my hospital bed next to me and held me as I slept for a few hours. It was one of the sweeter memories I have from my labor experience.
2 hours passed, and I woke up at 7AM with the pain medication having worn off and INTENSE contractions replacing it. For 2 hours, my doula and PJ supported me and encouraged me as I allowed my body to do its thing and experienced labor in all its glory. It felt like an out of body blur as I felt each contraction come on and braced myself for it. Those 2 hours were the hardest part of my labor; I remember PJ & Kate rotating who held my hands and who used pressure points to provide as much comfort as possible. During one particularly painful contraction, Kate whispered a worship hymn in my ear. I'll say it again & again, she truly was an invaluable member of my labor team.
At 9AM, I again said screw protocol, I want to be checked NOW. I had progressed to 5 centimeters, and you better believe I was ready for that epidural. I was overjoyed to see the anesthesiologist walk in, who did a fabulous job and even managed to make us all laugh by cracking a joke about teaching PJ how to give me my epidural. At this point, it was time to relax & let my body dilate to a 10. My mom and brother had arrived from California late into the night, and came to visit us at the hospital. It was a pretty surreal feeling seeing them there, bringing back tons of memories of when my baby sister was born almost 14 years prior. Only this time, I was the one in the hospital bed!
It was sometime in the early afternoon when my doctor came to check me & my mom and brother left. I was about 9 centimeters, almost time to push! Everything was so exciting and surreal at this point. For all the times in my life I wondered if I'd ever be able to give birth, I was about to prove to myself that I could.
At about 2:30PM, I started pushing. I had a nurse on one side of me, and Kate and PJ on the other. I felt incredible at this point, so grateful for and empowered by every push that got me closer to meeting my girl. My doctor came in, and encouraged me that one more strong round of pushes would bring Hannah into this world. That was all the motivation I needed to push with as much strength as I could, and at 3:16PM I got to meet my baby girl.
She was 7lb 7oz, 20 inches long, and just absolutely perfect. Those first few moments of having her on my chest were surreal. There's really no words to describe the feeling of meeting your child.
I am so incredibly grateful for every member of my birth team: for every nurse that took such good care of us in labor & delivery and postpartum, for the wonderful Dr. Adams who delivered Hannah, for the friends who sent me encouraging messages and celebrated her arrival, for my family who traveled to support us and welcome our baby girl home, for Kate who was an incredible doula and truly made my labor experience everything I hoped it would be and more, and for my husband who was such a solid partner throughout Hannah's birth and continues to be as we learn how to be parents.
Hannah Laine, words can't describe how thankful we are to be your parents! We love you!