Normal? Usually Always

The amount of Googling a pregnant person does cannot be overstated. Almost all of the posts in my online due date group started with, “Is it normal…??” When you’re pregnant, the answer is usually yes.

Yes, it’s normal to get bloody noses & have toothaches & be insanely thirsty. It’s normal for your nose to get visibly wider, both your shoe size and eyesight to change, and a bunch of other just weird/ gross/ foreign things to happen to your body because you’re cooking an entire person.

It seems most of the “what is happening?!?!” freak outs can be attributed to the pregnancy fact that your body is literally creating and circulating at least 50% more blood than normal. All those super visible veins you couldn’t see beneath your skin anymore? So much more blood flow now!

Unfortunately, the “am I dying or am I just a parent now” questions don’t end after birth. Don’t underestimate the amount of truly bizarre things that will come out of your body postpartum. My baby turns seven months old this week, and just this morning I was like, “What IS that?!?!” in regards to my own body. The glamour train does not stop rolling, my friends.

In honor of my college roommate’s kid turning one this month (a baby I’ve yet to meet! Thanks, pandemic!) I’ll leave you with one of my friend’s favorite sayings. NORMALIZE IT. Specifically, in her case, she wants to normalize “the size of the pads they send you home from the hospital with.” She has a photo of her lil’ newborn bub laying next to one of the postpartum pads from the hospital, and they’re the same size. When I showed the picture to my (dear, sweet, naive because I hadn’t yet given birth) husband, he assumed it was a pee pad the hospital had given her to put the baby on. Lololol nope– it’s basically a placemat she has to wear around to catch the insides falling out of her.

Pregnancy Laughs

One thing I miss about pregnancy (there isn’t much!) is the extra hormones that cause big emotions. It wasn’t super fun when it ended in tears- my husband has a video of me happy crying over the announcement that Big 10 football would be returning in the fall (???!!)- but they can also make you have laughing fits over things that, looking back, probably weren’t that funny. I realized a few weeks after the baby was born, “I haven’t laughed in a while… I miss that.”

Old People Facebook was a constant source of laughing to near tears. I also watched a ton of inappropriate best of Eric Andre compilations. If you’re currently pregnant, enjoy your giant laughing fits. You’re not losing your mind; it’s a normal side effect. If you’re postpartum and need some levity, I can’t recommend enough the book Sh*t, Actually by Lindy West. A friend sent it in a new mom care package for me (Rachael, you da real MVP) at a time when I thought I would never be able to have alone time to read a book again. Each essay was a source of true belly laughs, including my new favorite line from any book, ever, when she’s recapping the movie Top Gun: “It was Goose’s last honk.”

Bounce Back

I was talking with a pregnant friend last night– the Natalie’s are everywhere!!!– and she asked worriedly, “Does everything… you know, go back?” motioning around her stomach.

Ahhh, postpartum body changes. As if the truckload of hormones wasn’t doing enough to your brain, your body is also gonna be shapes for a while. As a white American woman whose had body image issues as long as I’ve been able to form memories, the post-birth body was just another thing adding to my truly WTF mental state the first few months. I’m by no means an outlier with that sentiment, so let’s talk about it.

You will gain more weight during your pregnancy than the approximately 6-9 lbs. your baby will likely come out weighing. A whole bunch of fluids and retained water come out during your hospital stay, too, but it’s unlikely you’re going home at your pre-pregnancy weight. Even if you do– yes, I know an actual human person who was at her pre-pregnancy weight two days after giving birth– your body is not going to look the same. I’ve read to expect that you’ll still look about five months pregnant after birth. Even if you had a snatched as hell body and your weight gain was “all baby!” your uterus has not yet contracted to it’s original size and your skin will take more than a day to not be a home for another person anymore.

You probably won’t care the first few weeks. There’s enough going on getting to know your brand new child that the state of your abdomen hopefully isn’t of much concern. Eventually, though, you might get a decent night’s sleep and take a real shower and find yourself naked in front of the bathroom mirror going, “Yikes. It happens. You’re not alone. If you had more than one baby at once, I have no further advice for you because I was in enough of a mental hell after only having one and being told for the entirety of my third trimester that I didn’t look very pregnant.

I think it was around three months postpartum that we got rid of our bathroom scale (gave it away for free to a rando on Instagram!) I wasn’t weighing myself daily, but whenever I would, the number was higher than I could imagine, and that would dictate my entire mood for the day. “The child has exited! I don’t have time to even eat that much! I’m drinking 1% of the beers I ever did pre-pregnancy! How am I not a lithe poolside nymph?!??!” As a loyal reader of this mind-blowingly insightful blog, you know my numero uno post-birth tip is to communicate with your partner, and I’m proud of myself for using my words and letting my husband in on my brain prison. “Is there a number that won’t make you hate yourself?” TOUCHE, DEAR. Bye bye, scale.

I accidentally packed my smallest pair of jeans on a weekend trip when my son was about 3.5 months old (I thought they were my maternity jeans! There is NO SHAME IN THE WEARING MATERNITY CLOTHES AFTER BIRTH GAME!) and I was shocked I could actually get them zipped. A few weeks later, I found I could wear all of my pre-pregnancy clothes without too much scandal. However, I know (I can just tell!) I’m not at my pre-pregnancy weight, and although the clothes technically fit, they don’t fit the same. Things are … lumpier? The places I gained weight in pregnancy are still squishier than I’d ideally want them to be. I’m not as confident sans clothing than I was before getting knocked up.

Is this because society has told me for three decades that women’s bodies go to hell once they have babies? Because I didn’t “bounce back” right away and have to slowly work at it daily like any other person wanting to change their body size would have to do anyway?

I follow a famous-ish personal trainer on Instagram who is engaged to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback; they just welcomed a daughter. She’s younger than most of the people I know who have recently become moms, and she was petite to begin with PLUS her literal job is to be fit as hell. On one hand, I’m like “get your life, girl” as she’s posting Instagram stories of her in the gym already or poolside with a crop top on. BUT. So many people are complimenting her in the comments about how great she looks just weeks out of the hospital. I feel she’s sending a wildly unnatural (and dangerous? problematic?) message to her younger followers who haven’t yet had children about what they should aspire to postpartum. Not that they can never go in the gym again or look even “better” post-baby, but it’s an unrealistic expectation that only fuels the already tenuous new mom narrative of getting right back into life as it was before baby arrived.

Most doctors won’t even clear you for exercise until six weeks postpartum. Even if you feel great, things are still healing internally. Where your placenta was attached to your uterus is allegedly a wound roughly the size of a dinner plate! In an ideal, not posed-for-Instagram life, I’d appreciate some transparency on what’s morphing it’s way back to her “normal” in her lower stomach area that’s being held up by high-waisted leggings (bless the inventor of those, they truly do suck up and in.)

I wish I had a pretty little thesis to wrap this whole thing up in a bow with, but everyone’s relationship to their own body and the space they take up physically and metaphorically in this world is messy and complex. As much as I tell myself, “OF COURSE your body looks different, you grew and birthed a HUMAN PERSON,” there are days where I’m just mean to myself. As much as I rationally know, “You’re doing a kick ass job and this kid is thriving and you’re taking care of your brain and that’s all so much more important than how your jeans fit,” there are still days where I think my bloated face means I’m a failure. So be kind to yourself. Unfollow people who make you feel certain ways. If you haven’t yet had a baby, please know that your body will change, and try with all your might to have grace for yourself when it does.

The Birth Story

Natalie is SUPER PREGNANT and will be giving birth this month (!!!!) At this point in my pregnancy, I had stopped consuming birth stories because I didn’t want to hear about anyone’s labor that wasn’t my own. I was a grumpy, frustrated mass of non-sleep over the fact that this kid wasn’t coming out a week or two early as I’d hoped. Since you’re probably not getting much comfortable sleep anyway, might as well read my first baby’s birth story, friend:

My pregnancy was almost boring in how unproblematic it was. We didn’t “see” the baby after the 20 week anatomy scan & the plan was to induce at 41 weeks if he didn’t come on his own. I had been 1 cm and 70% effaced at my 38 week appointment and then had zero change for the next two weeks. I’d had mild, sporadic period cramps for weeks that never amounted to anything, and I’d lost chunks of my mucus plug over the last three weeks. (If you’re reading this like MUCUS PLUG!??!?!? it’s exactly what it sounds like. And that’s what it looks like. If you can’t get your mind around a mucus plug, you might just wanna be completely unconscious for the birth because it doesn’t get any better from here.)

Mentally, I was crawling the walls because I’d started self-employed maternity leave when we moved houses at 36 weeks. (Do not recommend moving during the third trimester! But a million percent worth getting done before the baby arrives!) I did all the things: eating dates, having sex, walking day and night, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, bouncing on an exercise ball, labor-inducing massage… nothing happened. I was finally very physically uncomfortable at 39+5– breathing was getting really hard and I assumed it was because the baby had gotten quite big.

My OB practice has many doctors on staff, so I met a new-to-me doctor at my 40 week appointment. I was insanely out of breath just walking the one flight of stairs from the lobby to the OB clinic, but was told “well, yeah, you’re 40 weeks pregnant.” The nurse then said my blood pressure was “a bit high” which bowled me over because I have hereditarily low blood pressure, and my numbers had looked perfect all pregnancy. She read it at 144/80, and took it again at the end of the appointment- 128/88. The doctor didn’t love those numbers, but was pretty cavalier about the whole thing. He said my cervix wasn’t yet favorable so an induction wasn’t a great option. I was scheduled to come back on Thursday at 40+3 to check my blood pressure and see if they wanted to induce before the weekend. I asked if I should get an at home blood pressure cuff and he said no, just go right to the hospital if I experienced swelling or a sudden headache. I tried to not think about it the rest of the night, but I just didn’t feel awesome about the whole interaction. I told my husband if I was expected to just wait til Thursday for news of induction or not, I was at least going to get a cuff to monitor my own blood pressure.

The next morning, my at home blood pressure readings were 128/99 and 119/94. I had a bit of a headache but also hadn’t been sleeping well so didn’t want to read too much into it. The Internet told me the bottom number was quite alarming, but since the top ones weren’t insane, I was confused on what to do so left a message for the on-call nurse at my OB clinic. About an hour later, she called to say they were scheduling me for an induction later that night based on my blood pressure readings and that the baby was full term. Induction wasn’t part of my ideal birth scenario, but I was so ready to be done with pregnancy that I got pretty giddy.

They had me immediately go to a drive thru clinic to get a COVID swab, then we were to arrive at the hospital at 7:30 pm. The house was already pretty clean due to my severe boredom, so I took a long shower, checked and re-packed my hospital bag, told a select few friends what was happening, then curled my hair figuring it’d still look half-decent whenever I finally wore it down again. I think we had chili for dinner and watched an episode or two of Chopped, trying to play it cool but knowing that this was our last night of quiet for, like, ever.

After getting admitted and settled in at the hospital, Cervidil was placed at 8:30 pm. I was warned that for a first time mom at basically zero dilation, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to need multiple rounds or for this to take multiple days. (Um, no thank you! I’m here to have a baby ASAP!) They did give me an Ambien for sleep, which was somewhat effective given the circumstances; I got maybe 4-5 hours of broken sleep. The nurses started rounds at 6 am and it was a beautiful thing that they let me eat breakfast, have coffee, and take a shower before my next cervical check. The baby was super low, and the doctor was shocked I had gotten to 3 cm and 80% effaced overnight. We agreed she could break my water and then start Pitocin at a 2 at 8 am.

My ideal birth scenario was to labor without pain medication. The hospital was super respectful of my decisions and assigned me a nurse who was also a trained doula. She was an amazing support and taught me breathing techniques and suggested many different labor supports and positions. An hour and a half in, the Pitocin was upped to 6 and I was having doubts about my no meds decision. By 10 am (4 cm) I knew there was no way I was meeting this baby without pain management. The nurse was almost too good at respecting my wishes and I had to communicate many times that yes, I know I said I didn’t want an epidural, but that was the before times and I definitely want one now! It took until about 11:15 to get it placed, but it was 1,000% the right choice for me. I’m actually quite proud that normally inflexible me realized my limits. I remember thinking, “If I get to meet this baby today either way, why not take the help and be able to not completely hate the experience getting there?” It was a wonderful epidural for someone who still wanted to feel things– I could move my legs and DEFINITELY still feel pressure and some pain, it just no longer felt like an 18-wheeler semi truck of flames was ripping through my midsection every few minutes.

I was worried the epidural would stall labor, but I was at 7 cm by noon and my mood was markedly less demonic. I started getting the urge to bear down around 1 pm but I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so finally had the nurse check me at 1:40 and I was at a 10! The on call doctor was at another hospital so we tried some practice pushes shortly after 2 pm. Apparently I’m a real effective pusher (thanks, three years of obsessive barre exercise!) and I was told to STOP pushing. The doctor– whom I’d never met before!- delivered my son while running in with her gown untied at 2:43.

The epidural did not take all the pain of pushing away, and pushing was not my favorite part. It felt so unnatural to be pushing that hard and holding my breath- seriously a physical feat. I had a mild second degree tear and thank God I was obsessed with the baby on my chest so I could be distracted from the stitches that I could definitely feel getting sewn in. He was so slippery and cried so loud and for so long! I kept looking over my shoulder at my husband (good job staying away from the carnage, husband) like “Do you see him?! Do you see this?! This is happening?!” We did delayed cord clamping and then enjoyed skin-to-skin for an hour before they took him to get measured and cleaned up. Well, I enjoyed it– the baby shrieked like a pterodactyl for most of it. He was not happy about his sudden eviction.

…am I supposed to tell you about all the gory after parts now?? Maybe a different post. Just know that a lot of fluids will GUSH OUT OF YOU for a VERY LONG TIME after.

Freezer Meals + Gifting Food

Natalie is due next month (!!!) which means she’s in prime freezer meal time. Prepping food to eat in the weeks after birth was top priority since I’m the only cook in our house, and I’m cheap as hell when it comes to spending too much on takeout. I’ll outline how I tackled it below, but know that how you eat food now is how you’re gonna eat food after baby comes. This is the time to be realistic, not aspirational (maybe that sentence should just be sewn onto pillows and sold as the catch-all phrase for life postpartum?) If you’ve never used a Crock Pot, now is not the time to research Pinterest’s top 100 slow cooker recipes and assume you’re going to start using it once you become a parent.

  1. People will give you food. This is very nice of them! Many will ask in advance what you like, and honey, this is not the time to be coy. “Oh, we’ll eat anything!” is not helpful to you, a person who does indeed have food preferences, but especially not helpful to the person offering. Outline a few things you don’t like– no mushrooms or coconut in this house, thank you!– and point them towards a region or a few dishes you know you’ll appreciate having around (“we love any kind of Mexican food” or “breakfast items I can eat with one hand!”)
  2. If you want vegetables around, you’re gonna have to get ’em yourself. There are always exceptions, but people tend to gift comfort foods in times of life upheaval. Be prepared to get a lot of cream-based casseroles, pastas, and beige-colored foods. Refer back to the above advice and get direct with your mother, “Before you come over on Thursday, can you pick up some dip-able veggies? A bag of apples? Anything resembling a nutrient?” You’re so out of it hormonally the first week or two that you likely won’t care or really taste what food is around, but your body will thank you.
  3. If you’re the one gifting new parents a meal, make sure it’s a complete one. Don’t make a pan of meatballs and sauce just assuming they have a box of pasta in the cupboard. I’m not saying it needs to be four courses plus tableware, but logically think through how you can make this meal + leftovers as easy as possible. This includes using reusable or recyclable containers– the absolute last thing a new parent wants to do is put “return Pyrex to friend across town” on their to-do list.
  4. You can gift food well after the baby arrives. We are so in love with every single person who poured their generous hearts into nourishing us that first week or two, but the most memorable food gift came about six weeks after we were home from the hospital. My former boss brought over a pan of STILL WARM apple crisp and a GALLON OF ICE CREAM. Was it indulgent as hell? Absolutely. But it was unexpected in that society assumes you’ve got some sort of grip on the grocery game again after the first month. I’m three months postpartum now and would fall to my knees weeping if someone brought by a sandwich tray and said “lunch is taken care of for the week.”
  5. Alrighty, how I did it. I’m not a huge recipe person, rather I usually prep some protein early in week, then have veggies on hand and various items to mix and match with pantry staples to create decent meals. Basically I took my weekly strategy and bulked it up thanks to a trip to Costco (aka hell. Why do I hate going to Costco so much.) I prepped like 10 pounds of chicken breasts, then shredded the meat and froze in containers that held enough for a couple meals. I cooked up 5 pounds of ground turkey and did the same. (If you do this, just season the meat with salt, pepper & garlic powder so it can go with anything.) I got bags of frozen veggies and made sure we had multiple bags of rice, cans of beans and salsa, jars of pasta sauce and Indian simmer sauces, burrito shells, pasta, tortilla chips, etc. We’d then take one thing of meat out of the freezer and build from there out the pantry– did we want tacos, stir fry, pasta, salad?
  6. Don’t forget breakfast. I blended green smoothies ahead of time and froze them individually in plastic cups, as well as baked oatmeal squares and eggs with veggies you make in muffin tins (the Internet is your friend for any of these recipes.) You will be holding a baby and most of your eating will be done with one hand, so plan accordingly!

Early Pregnancy Advice

If you’ve recently found out you’re expecting for the first time, congratulations. My number one piece of advice as you begin to tell others the news is: lie like a damn rug about your due date.

If your EDD is 10/19 (me!) tell people that baby’s due date is the first week of November. Give yourself at least a two week buffer, but not because first time babies often arrive late. This is to protect your sanity and your relationship with those around you in those final few weeks of pregnancy.

Sometime around 38 weeks, the texts will start. They’ll seem innocent at first– of course people mean well. “Just checking in!” “Any signs of baby yet?” Maybe you’re a nicer person than me (most everyone is) and you’ll think it’s so lovely that people care. But maybe you’ve been isolated for most of your pregnancy due to a pandemic and really thought this baby would be coming early so your fuse is shorter than normal. This is why you lie from the beginning.

If you’re still pregnant a week before your actual due date and you haven’t taken my advice, the texts become phone calls. “When’s that baby coming?” I DON’T KNOW, GRANDMA. Shut off your phone. Just shut it down. Absolutely nothing constructive will come out of your mouth after 39 weeks. You will not need reminders from everyone around you that you’re pregnant. Did people do this in the olden days before instant communication? I doubt it. Pretend it’s still 1954, Linda, and don’t waste a phone call on, “You had that baby yet?” You are 100% allowed to get snarky as hell. “Oh shit, there’s a baby coming?!” Save a Google images photo of a baby of a different race than yours will be and text it to people, “He arrived last week. Forgot to tell you!” (Is that problematic? Probably.)

My frustration came from: 1- if you’re close enough to me to inquire about the status of my uterus, you will be told when it’s empty. It’s not like we’ve kept the pregnancy from you; why would the birth be any different?! and 2- No one, and I mean no one, Mother, wants this baby out more than me. I want to meet him. I want to see what he looks like. I don’t need you reminding me every day that he’s not here yet. The WORST is when they follow it up with “Oh well, he’ll come when he comes.” THEN WHY DID YOU ASK. I don’t want your platitudes, I want an induction!!

Tangential advice to anyone with a pregnant person in your lives, if you hadn’t picked up on it already: don’t ask. Don’t ask the due date from the beginning. Don’t ask towards the end where the baby is. You’ll be told when you’re told. All I know about Natalie’s baby is that it’s allegedly arriving in March. Am I fully in my rights to start texting her the last week of February since NATALIE HERSELF violated all of the above rules and bothered me late in my pregnancy? I am. But I won’t because I’ve been there, and I know that she doesn’t need a reminder from me that something very big is about to happen. If I haven’t heard anything by mid-May, I might pick up the phone.

Pregnancy Resources

Aside from my wiser, already-parent friends, there were a few places I turned to often for information in my pregnancy. God knows I’ll remember about a 100 more in the coming weeks, so this will be an evergreen post, possibly it’s own page! If you’re reading this & have something you think would be helpful for all our Natalies to check out, comment away.

  • The Birth Hour podcast: I was obsessed with listening to birth stories prior to my own labor experience. There’s a ton of birthing podcasts out there, but I appreciated the simple format of this one and the variety of birth stories shared by guests. Approximately .003 seconds after delivery, I couldn’t have cared less since I’d finally lived the real thing, so it’ll be interesting to see if I re-subscribe if this sucker ever gets a sibling.
  • Nurse Zabe on YouTube: She’s just so damn likeable! Nurses are the real MVP of the whole hospital experience, and Nurse Zabe (pronounced zay-buh, like the middle of EliZABEth) has a ton of experience as a labor & delivery and postpartum nurse in the southern USA. She just announced her third pregnancy and is making videos in real time about that, plus she’s famous for her “what your nurses do & don’t want you to pack in your hospital bag” videos.
  • Reddit. Yes, that Reddit. Even if you’ve never been on Reddit or think it’s the devil’s butthole of the Internet, there are private subreddits for expecting parents for each month of each year. It’s a community of thousands of people from around the world who are going through exactly what you’re going through at the same-ish time. Generally you search for yours towards the beginning of your pregnancy, then they go private around 20 weeks or so (each mod runs them differently.) For example, r/October2020Bumpers was my go-to for “Is this thing happening to you?” “How is pregnancy kicking your ass today?” and then they stay active after the babies are born and you have community from around the world when you’re posting “It’s 2 a.m. and I haven’t slept for weeks WHHHYYYYYY?!?!?” Warning: as people in your subreddit start giving birth, it will give you the false sense that you will also go into labor early. If you are, say, me, this will make you absolutely despondent that you’re still pregnant by week 39 and you should take a break from your beloved online community.