Sarah & Poppy; what’s going on and what’s helping

Well! This is our garden at the moment, bright with red poppies. 20160816_103851_wm.jpg

I use pseudonyms for my family members on this blog – just because I’m public about my life doesn’t mean they always want to be. I’m also very discrete about information linked to other people, so for example anything I write about Rose or that might impact on her, she reads and has veto power over before I publish it. That means little frog needs her blog name now she’s been born, and Rose and I have picked Poppy. 🙂

Poppy is going really well, she’s healthy and gaining weight well. I am still a bit of a mess and struggling to get back to health. Everyone was so sure that once I’d delivered bubs my health would improve, but heart-breakingly that hasn’t been the case! I am dealing with a stack of problems and making more progress on some than others. It’s taking a lot of emotional energy, keeping pain levels high, and forcing us out of the house (which I hate with a passion at the moment, it’s so hard on all of us) for expensive medical appointments and treatments. We are regular fixtures at the chemist at the moment and I am very fed up about it. Things are by no means all bad – we’re both making sure we get lovely moments of connection each day and Poppy is simply the most beautiful, adorable little tribelet in the history of the world, but this is the other side of things that it’s hard to put into words at times. Here’s my health stuff – skip it if you’re squeamish.

  • A grade 3b tear during Poppy’s birth. No one knows why, I was about as low risk for a tear as it was possible to be. Tears come in grades 1-4 (from grazing through to tearing into the rectum) Mine is pretty bad, I have torn through muscles and into sphincters. It was originally mis-assessed as a grade 2 tear and stitched by my midwife with a local that didn’t work. It was then un-stitched and I was taken to surgery for repair under a spinal block. It was not handled well and the whole experience was pretty traumatic.
  • Due to the tear, urinary incontinence. This was a huge shock to me and very embarrassing. Not to mention extremely painful, having urine burn into damaged skin and stitches. Severe pain, numb areas, and no bladder control at all for the first week caused horrible situation where I was peeing the bed or all over the floor without any sensation or warning. Needless to say, there were quite a few keen would-be visitors I was pretty distressed about seeing me in this state. Things are improving as the days go by and the muscles begin to heal.
  • Severe genital pain. Days of doctors telling me I shouldn’t be in as much pain as I was describing, contradictory advice about whether sitting on my wounds would heal them faster or slower, and my allergies to most pain killers made this a bit of a nightmare. Some of the pain may be nerve pain, which is not responding even to high levels of pain killers. Some pain is improving as things heal. I’m expecting to need pelvic physio care down the track.
  • Thrush, systemically. Genitals, nipples, and mouth. Extremely painful. My tongue swelled up and began to crack as doctor after doctor insisted it wasn’t thrush. Burning pain with every breastfeed from about the second day of Poppy’s life, that got steadily worse each feed. Three courses of antibiotics (for my skin infection, the tear, and then retained membranes) over the past month have destroyed my healthy bacteria levels. Now that all areas are finally being treated I’m seeing rapid improvements across the board – this has been the best news all week. The private lactation consultant we saw on Tuesday picked up on the nipple thrush and within 2 applications of anti-fungal gel I was able to feed for up to an hour without intense pain – I have literally been chewing on my hands to cope with the pain of breastfeeding while people kept telling me it was normal and my skin would toughen up eventually. They were wrong!!
  • Tinea (also known as jock itch, athlete’s foot etc, another fungal infection). This is a bit of nightmare for me because I’m really allergic to tinea. It makes my skin peel off and leaves me with horrible, painful open sores. I often get it when taking antibiotics, same as the thrush. I have it all over my genitals and in my armpits. One armpit has almost completely healed, the other is almost entirely an open infected sore, genital area starts to heal then sloughs the fresh skin a couple of days later. Wearing clothing/underwear is very painful.
  • The open sores caused by the tinea have been colonised with what my gp suspects is a staph infection. I have to be extremely careful not to infect Poppy. I am washing my hands so much they are starting to develop excema. The infections are painful, itchy, and difficult as hell to cure. I am trying a number of different things looking for something effective – often a treatment looks like it is working for a day or two then things flare back up and I have to add something else.
  • Urethritis/urinary tract infection
  • Fissure
  • Painful lumps in my legs and arms – we are unsure exactly what these are at this stage, possibly fatty deposits caused by a reaction to my high hormone levels. If they get worse or don’t go away after I’ve got the more urgent problems under control we’ll investigate further
  • Blocked milk ducts. This means large, hard, hot, painful lumps in my breasts, that could turn into mastitis (an infection). Rose, Poppy and I took a long drive up into the hills yesterday in sheer desperation to see a lovely physio who showed me how to massage the lumps and try to clear the blockages. I spent an hour face down in a hot bath last night doing just that.
  • Major breastfeeding issues. Poppy has been diagnosed with a posterior tongue tongue tie, a disorganised suckling method, and of course I’ve had nipple thrush. We also had latch issues for the first week and my milk came in late. Breastfeeding has been a special kind of hell. I am expressing using our breast pump and Rose is learning how to breastfeed Poppy herself using a supplemental nursing system and my milk. (she has not been able to induce lactation herself) It’s been a steep learning curve for us both and frankly after so many extremely painful feeds I’m pretty traumatised. We are still fighting for breastfeeding at this stage. Poppy is also cluster feeding which I have found really hard to handle, so for example I took over a shift from Rose at 6am this morning so she could get some sleep (we handle the nights in shifts now, the nights are really, really hard on us all) and she fed from 6am – 9am. For the first half hour it was calm and even pleasant. Rose woke to me pretty distraught and in a lot of pain by the second hour. Now that we’ve identified this as an issue we are working on making these less distressing. Half the problem is just identifying what the problems are!
  • Severe sleep deprivation and mental health distress. After 12 days of early labour disrupting sleep, Rose and I were short on reserves. No one got any sleep the night of Poppy’s birth, and the days in hospital following Rose and I managed less than 8 hours in total, over 5 days and nights. I was extremely concerned about harm to bonding and psychosis. Both have been present in small ways. For example, I’ve struggled to remember who Poppy is at times. Rose has gone out and bought some very feminine outfits for her because I find that helps. When she’s dressed in something more gender neutral and it’s night when I’m more tired, I find myself getting confused and thinking Poppy is Tamlorn, which is heartbreaking.
  • Grief. Grief, grief, grief, grief, grief. So many dead babies, so much fear of being judged, told we need to just be grateful, focus on Poppy and don’t think about it, and so on. Rose and I have waited our whole lives for Poppy. We love her so much our hearts burst. We adore being parents. And there is also pain and grief and darkness and fear. There are nightmares where we wake to find her dead. The black hours are really, really black, and we are looking after each other intensely to get us all through them.
  • Trauma. I’ve got a lot of stuff to process about birth and postpartum. I’ve been able to have a debrief with the midwife at the birth, and with our amazing doula, and both were painful and healing and desperately important for my mental health. I know I need more time and safe places to talk and that will be a priority at some point. In the meantime I’m debriefing and talking with people close to me and that’s a huge help too.

So, this has not been a regular postpartum recovery. We are getting help for the breastfeeding and seeing midwives, doctors, physios and so on for my health. We are very, very broke because we had no idea we’d need to save up for this time as everyone was confident my health would improve once Poppy arrived, and as I was so ill by the end of the pregnancy we spent our money on treatments and care then. Our tribe have been helping out which is simply incredible and has made such a huge difference. On good days we stay home and hibernate with our new baby and there are salt baths and naked sunbathing and cuddles and photos and a lot of bonding and hope. Those days or hours are only possible because of the huge amount of support we’ve had around us, and I’m so grateful!

We’ve had some folks not really getting why we have not been up to much in the way of visitors. Postpartum is a crazy vulnerable time for most (there’s a cool article here with suggestions about visiting people who have a new baby I can really relate to!), and for me it’s been extra stressful and vulnerable. There’s not a lot of people in the world I feel okay on any level about peeing myself in front of, being half naked while I learn to breastfeed, having nasty open smelly sores, crying every other hour, and dealing with a massive amount of blood and other bodily fluids of all kinds. It’s not about withholding access to the lovely new baby, it’s about protecting us in a really vulnerable time.

Some folks have been asking what they can do to help and I’ve found that impossible to answer. There are some ideas in that article about visiting, but I’ve also been thinking about what other people have been doing that has really made a difference to us all. Here’s the short list:

  • Meals/food is awesome. Really appreciated!
  • Doing a chore or two when visiting
  • Picking up stuff for us like a hand held shower rose for me to keep my wounds clean more easily, or milk, or filling scripts at the chemist
  • Helping out with our medical costs
  • Touching base via text or messenger and not taking it personally if we forget to write back. I get phone phobic when I’m stressed so don’t take that personally either.
  • Listening ear
  • Recommendations for helpful things (books, lactation consultants etc) and also not taking it personally if we don’t pick up on it/don’t find it helpful/see someone else
  • Clearly communicating things using small words and repeating them when we look glazed or fall asleep mid-sentence
  • Not taking anything personally really, we are in survival mode at the moment and things are tough and we are crazy vulnerable and doing our best to take care of ourselves
  • Goo-ing over photos and commiserating over the tough stuff. Rose and I keep getting stressed when it feels like we’re only sharing (or people are only hearing) one half of the amazing/horrible experience this all is at the moment.
  • Not mixing up the parenting stuff with the health stuff. The parenting stuff is tough and amazing and exhilarating. The health stuff has been a nightmare with no upside. People keep trying to commiserate by telling me being a new Mum is tough which is lovely (and true!!!) but also frustrating for me at the moment because frankly I want more chances to be a new mum and spend less time trying to pick my health up off the floor.
  •  Understanding the context of our lives with Poppy – there’s grief and trauma and a long history behind this amazing rainbow baby. That’s a different experience from what some people have, it’s a bit messier and darker and opens up some old wounds. I keep being told that being a new mum is the hardest thing I will ever do in my life, and I understand that’s coming from a  place of empathy and connection, but for Rose and I it’s not really true. This past fortnight has been crazy difficult, but I’d still say it was easier than some other things I’ve come through, and I’d definitely choose it again over experiences like abuse, homelessness, suicide, and miscarriage.

So there we go. Huge love to all our peoples. I hope it’s helpful to have things laid out more clearly than we’ve been able to until now. I swing between massive gratitude for the good fortune, good care, and love of our friends and even strangers (new friends!) we’ve received over the past few weeks – and feeling overwhelmed, guilty that so many new mum’s in our position don’t get this care, and swamped by self loathing for needing the extra support. It’s all very up and down, this postpartum thing! Thanks for being part of it with us. ❤

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