Amber's Postnatal Story: Podcast Episode #143
Kristin chats with Gold Coast client Amber Shaw about her postnatal recovery. She shares the challenges she faced and discusses how she advocated for her needs. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud. You can also check out Amber’s birth story and her experience with the Becoming course.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin, and I am joined again by Amber Shaw. Now, Amber filled us in a bit on her VBAC story, and today we’re going to talk about her postnatal journey. Welcome, Amber!
Amber: Thank you so much!
Kristin: So fill us in. We’ve talked a bit about your birth story with Miles, but now we’re going to talk about, you know, immediately coming home from delivering and just how you felt in recovery and feeding and all of the things.
Amber: Well, I guess my story kind of starts, you know, right after my delivery. So going into it, I didn’t know really what to expect with a vaginal delivery and the healing process because my first was a C-section. So I knew what that was like. And, you know, I prepared and I bought the padsicles and, like, bought the stuff, you know, to kind of heal myself, but looking back on it, I think that so much preparation goes into birth. You spend months and months mentally and physically preparing for birth, and it’s kind of like a – it happens in the blink of an eye almost, and then you’re kind of left with your postpartum journey, which I don’t think is prepared for nearly enough.
Kristin: Totally agree.
Amber: Yeah. That was kind of my realization. I went into it thinking that, you know, a vaginal birth was going to be way easier to heal from. I was going to be able to just kind of, you know, get up and start moving around and start walking, and I was just going to bounce back quicker. And so right after delivery, I get up into my room, and they want me to get up and go to the bathroom, and I realized I couldn’t walk at all. It was excruciating, and it wasn’t even necessarily the stitch area, it was just everything.
Kristin: And the cramping you feel after delivery.
Amber: Yeah, as well as my pelvic bone. It was my pubic bone, I quickly realized, because I couldn’t take a step forward. I had to, like, side shuffle almost because I had so much destabilization from pushing for so long, and it was just shocking to me. Like, the pain was shocking. The fact that I couldn’t walk was shocking. It’s, like, not what I expected, and I feel like I immediately was just like kind of taken off guard by what was going on with my body. And so – and they were – I think the nurses – like, everybody was just kind of confused as to why I couldn’t walk, and the whole pubic symphysis situation I was feeling still wasn’t really realized at that point, even by me. I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t walk. And come to find out a little bit down the road, like, now we understand what happened and why I was in so much pain. But every single time I had to get up and go to the bathroom, I had to call the nurses in. Just this big thing, and just not what I expected at all. So the first night in the hospital was really rough. I was having a hard time just getting pain under control, and again, with my first birth, you’re on narcotics when you have a C-section because, obviously, it’s like a surgical procedure. But this time, like, I felt, you know, like my body went through more, and you’re given, like, Tylenol. It’s just kind of laughable thinking about it. Not that I wanted to be, like, drugged up, but it’s like, oh, my gosh. It just didn’t even, like, light a candle to the discomfort I was dealing with. So I was really just more leaning on other things I could do because obviously, you know, I didn’t really have, like, pain medication to help with the discomfort. So I was trying to keep a lot of ice on myself, but it was rough. And I do feel like I was let go from the hospital probably sooner than I should have been. I was still just, like, not mobile at all. And we just weren’t prepared for this. You know, we have a four-year-old at home. I have a newborn, and I needed full time care myself. Like, I couldn’t get up and move at all. Like, I had to be helped to the bathroom. You know, I had a walker. I had to use a walker at home. So my mom ended up coming, thank God. She met us here the night I got home from the hospital, and she stayed with us for, like, three weeks. That was such a blessing, and I look back on it, and I don’t know what I would have done if she wouldn’t have been able to come at the drop of the dime like that. It’s not what we were planning on, you know? I thought I was going to be up and moving and, you know, Ashton was off of work, and he was going to be able to help out with the boys, too, but that just was not our situation at all. So that was really helpful. So she met us at our house that night, and man, the first couple nights were just so rough. I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to be in at all. Like, laying down was painful. Sitting up fully was painful. I think I slept the first night at home, like, in a recliner with the bassinet next to me, just having a hard time finding any comfort at all at first. And then a couple days later, when I was just not as raw but obviously still dealing with some discomforts, I had Annie from Rise come out and do some adjustments, you know, for Miles and I, and I just cried and cried to her. I was just broken. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t even walk at that point, and I just was devastated at the state of my body. And also kind of at this point, a friend of mine had come over the night after I had gotten home because I just, like, had some concerns about how I was feeling. I felt like my blood pressure was really low. I was just feeling so completely depleted, and I just didn’t know if it was normal or not. And so she came over, and she noticed that I had a little bit of an arrhythmia going on with my heart, and she’s like, has anybody ever noticed that before? You know, nobody – it hasn’t really been brought up before. So I was like, no, not really. You know, it might just be, like, a postpartum thing. So I brought it up to Annie. She kind of noticed it, as well. Then it was kind of just forgotten about. You know, she adjusted me, and my heart was feeling weird, but there was so much other stuff going on, you know, with my body. I kind of ignored that for the time being. So two weeks after Miles was born, I came down with my first round of mastitis.
Amber: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, it was – you know, I’d read about it, and I was always really scared to get it with Parker, so I was really diligent about pumping and massaging and just always emptying myself, and I feel like because, you know, this healing process was so different, I wasn’t managing my breastfeeding as well. Like, I kind of let him feed on one side and then – you know, he’s kind of a grazer. He doesn’t, like, empty me on both sides. He kind of grazes. And so I was just kind of letting him do that, and yeah, the mastitis came on quick, and I didn’t even really realize what it was. I thought I had like a UTI or something. And the very next day was – you know, we had an appointment with Miles, and my midwife checked me out in the bathroom. I didn’t really have an appointment with her, but she’s like, I want to look at you. And she kind of realized that I had mastitis because I was pretty engorged at that point, but I still was like, I don’t know if I do. But absolutely did. It hit really hard and fast. That was really rough. And always just a little discouraging to get that, you know, right off the bat because you just want to, like, start out your breastfeeding journey so strong, and it was discouraging to have that going on while I was dealing with so many other issues, and I was so scared about my supply.
Kristin: Of course.
Amber: And being on antibiotics, you know, right after you have a baby. I didn’t want to do that. But, you know, ultimately, your care has to kind of come first because if you’re not doing well, obviously, you can’t care for you baby as well, either. So that was another little hurdle that was pretty tough. But it’s weird. It comes on quick but also goes away relatively quickly. So after a day or two of antibiotics, I started feeling better and my supply kind of got back up and kind of got over that hurdle a little bit. So I was still dealing with not being able to walk very well, but it was getting a little bit better at this point. And I had my six week checkup, and I was still dealing with quite a bit of discomfort in my stitch area and particularly one side of my stitches, so I felt like one side was healing better than the other. And I didn’t know if that was normal. I feel like you never know what’s normal because –
Kristin: Every experience was new to you. It was different.
Amber: Yeah. Yeah, and I feel like everything’s normal and everything’s not normal at the same time. You’re just like – you know, this is my journey. You know, maybe this is normal to experience, but at the same time, you’re kind of questioning everything at the same time. You kind of feel like you’re kind of floating along with just not a lot of direction on the healing process and what that should look like. And so I had my six-week appointment, and I was checked – I brought up my concern, and I said that I was still having quite a bit of pain on side. And during my exam, it was realized that I needed a revision on my stitches. So that was quite a blow. I had already had six weeks of healing under my belt and then had to have them redone on one side, on that side that I had quite a bit of pain in. And it was explained to me – you know, obviously, when you push for a while, you’re very swollen, and I was stitched up when I was pretty swollen. They try to kind of piece the tissue back together as much as possible, but sometimes things can happen, and so I had some nerve and rawness exposure that needed to be fixed, and that was really scary because I was still so, just – I was just wrecked down there, and to think about going through that while I was still in the process of healing was just terrifying, and it really – that was, like, a tough thing to wrap my head around. And so it happened pretty quickly. The very next week, I ended up getting in and got the revision done, and that really set me back quite a bit. I expected it to be, obviously, like, painful and uncomfortable, but it really kind of – it was extremely uncomfortable, and I really had a hard time with the pain during the revision healing process, like almost worse than the first time around, and I’m not really sure why that is. But yeah, thank God, my mom ended up coming back yet again. Yeah, she was at our house kind of helping with everything while I took it easy and just iced. And it took quite a while for that to get back to kind of a normal – to feel like I was actually, like, healing. I feel like it’s such a blur still in my mind, like, all of it, so it’s kind of hard to, like, sort.
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Amber: So healing from the revision was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. You know, I was thinking I just had to get it revised on one side, but it really set me back quite a bit in just my healing process. I felt like I was kind of at the beginning all over again. Ice a ton and just having to, like, rest a lot. And I am just a busy body. I’m not good at resting, and at this point, I’m, like, seven weeks into my healing journey, and I’m feeling like I’m on week one again. And it was just a really discouraging time.
Kristin: Right, because you think you’ll get cleared for exercise and all of these things by that point.
Amber: Yeah, like, six weeks is what you kind of, like, have a goal of just having some kind of normalcy back, and I was not even close to that. I wasn’t even close to normalcy. And it was – I just felt like I had so many people reaching out and being like, how are you, how are you, and I was so sick of even talking about all of these hurdles I was facing, so I wasn’t even really being honest with people because it was just exhausting. For me to tell them that I had yet another thing done, and even talking about a revision, it’s kind of – just not something you want to talk to people about because it’s just one of those things about pregnancy and healing that you’re kind of just, like, mum about a little bit. And so I just felt like I was kind of alone, you know, kind of just dealing with this postpartum thing on my own, and I was clearly on my own timeline.
Kristin: Did you reach out to your doulas? I know you and I talked, but –
Amber: Yeah, I was definitely in touch with them. I mean, I had my little tribe, of course, of people that I felt comfortable with and would talk about things with, but as a whole, I kind of started to kind of get reclusive with people and just – I just didn’t even have energy to talk about it anymore because I felt like every time I would kind of jump ahead in my journey a little bit, I had something that knocked me back. And so this was kind of a little bit of a dark time during the revision process. Also, not to mention, this was during the summer, and I was really looking forward to being able to get in the water with my son again. I did not swim at all this summer, and that seems like something so little, but we were out at our cabin a lot, and I just could never get in and play with him, and he didn’t really understand why. Like, he did; he knew that I was healing, but it was just sad to sit on the sidelines and not be able to play in the water because that’s something that I do a lot.
Kristin: In Michigan, I mean, summer is our time.
Amber: Yes. Summer was just – oh, this summer just didn’t count for me, you know? It might as well have been like the winter. I just feel like I wasn’t able to really enjoy a lot of it. But eventually, I did heal from the revision. Had obviously a lot of sensitivity for a long time. I still do. But that kind of started to fizzle off and I started to heal a little bit from that. Well, at my two-week checkup before my revision, I was in there and the nurse took my pulse, my heart rate, and she, like, looked really concerned, and then she did it again, and she wasn’t even, like, talking to me. And then she’s like, your heart rate is really low. Hold on one second. And then, you know, she went out and got her watch to do it the old school way. My heart rate was at, like, 32, which is insanely low. So normal is, like, 60 is the low end of normal. It’s like 60 to 100 with women. And I was in the 30s, and she’s like, this is really concerning. Do you usually have a low heart rate, and I don’t. Then my OB came in and checked it too, and they were like, we should advise you really to go to the walk-in clinic or the ER right now, but how are you feeling? And I felt okay, but as they were talking about it, I could feel my anxiety almost start to rise. Like, it was like a placebo thing, and I was like, oh, my God, my heart rate does feel really weird right now. They were like, you need to follow up with your primary care physician immediately about this. And so it was concerning, you know? They didn’t know why my heart rate was so low. And so I ended up getting in with my primary care physician a couple weeks later, and I kind of thought about it, and I was, like, noticing it a little bit more, and then I kind of remembered that this was brought to my attention, like, weeks earlier, but I had just had so much other stuff I was juggling with healing and my postpartum stuff that I just wasn’t even paying attention to my heart. But now that everything else was kind of starting to feel a little bit more normal, my heart was, like, center stage now, and it was like, okay, you have to deal with me now. So, you know, I was like, how is this now happening? You know what I mean? Like, I just felt like I had one thing after another, and I was like, what is going on with my heart now? So I have a newborn and I have a four-year-old, and it’s concerning. So I got into my primary care physician, and she put a heart monitor on me, so I wore a heart monitor for a week and it recorded everything. Got that data in. And then I had a meeting with her, essentially going over what she found, and she was like, you need to see a cardiologist. You have a lot of irregularities, essentially, with your heart going on right now. You have extreme highs and lows. So I was going from my heartrate being in the 30s to in the high 100s, back and forth all day long. And she was like, this is not a normal thing. You need to get this checked out. And so I ended up getting in to see a cardiologist, and this was a very stressful time, thinking that I’m on the verge of having a heart attack, and I felt like because I was more aware of it, I was causing probably more of it. I was having a lot of palpitations at this point, and it was just a really stressful thing, obviously, for my family. My husband’s really concerned about me, and it’s my heart. And so it took a while to get in to see a cardiologist because, of course, any time you need a specialist –
Kristin: And it’s COVID. So of course, like…
Amber: Yeah. It took a bit, so probably three or four weeks, I had to wait to get in to see a cardiologist. But – and I’m still kind of on this journey right now, but long story short, I’ve essentially been diagnosed with benign PVCs. What that means is I have – my heart, like, misses a beat and then does, like, a double beat, like all day long. And he thinks it is due to trauma from birth and my healing process and also anxiety, which is kind of crazy that birth and just all of the stress of that can affect one of your organs like that. I am going to get a second opinion coming up in a few weeks here because I’m still very much experiencing it, and it was left a little open ended. I don’t know when or if there’s going to be an end to it. It might be something that I always deal with. So it’s kind of just this thing that’s still happening. Like, I feel it happening right now. I have palpitations. And it’s kind of becoming a new norm for me, but I’m also like, can this be alleviated somehow? So, yeah, still very much dealing with that. But looking back on my postpartum journey, it was not as I expected, and I felt very caught off guard by just how my body, I guess reacted to birth. Like, it was – I felt like I was at the strongest moment in my life immediately followed by the weakest moment of my life. Not being able to walk directly after, and that was such a hard thing to grapple with because I was so proud of what I had just done, and then I felt like my body just fell apart, and I kind of abandoned it. I was like, I don’t know you anymore, and I’m not going to take care of you like I should. I felt like I just wasn’t in touch with myself as much anymore because I just felt like it failed me. And so I’m very much on a journey right now of trying to love myself, like, where I’m at, love my body where it’s at, be in gratitude of it for what it’s done and what it’s still doing instead of cursing it for not working like it should and jumping back as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s been a huge learning process for me that I’m very much still in, and it’s going to be a long journey for me, I think. And I just feel like I wanted to talk about this because I think women, and obviously society, there is a pushback going on right now, thank God, of just the bounce back that you should experience and that you think is, like, normal after birth. And every single birth is different, and every single person’s body is different, and you have no idea –
Kristin: Exactly, and every baby is different, so temperaments and sleep and feeding, it’s all unique.
Amber: Yep. So to expect to fit into some kind of box, to think that you need to, like, get back to normal even at six weeks, I think, is insane. Six weeks is nothing compared to, like, the trauma that your body just went through. So for that to be, like, this goal of women to be like, I can have sex and I can work out and I can do all these things at six weeks – like, get that out of your head.
Kristin: And fit in my jeans and all of the goals that we have, which are unrealistic, and you look at traditional cultures and the time that they take for healing and community caring for them, I mean, it’s the first 40 days in many cultures, some even longer than that, where they’re not lifting a finger. And yeah, so it’s just – I feel like we need to get back to really caring for each other, and the role of a postpartum doula in a lot of that nurturing and healing phase and getting systems in place is so key.
Amber: Absolutely. I was so grateful to have my mom, and if I didn’t have my mom, I absolutely would have had a postpartum doula because when you have another child, especially – like, your husband can only take care of so many people.
Kristin: Your partner needs sleep.
Amber: Yeah. You are the patient, and you need to view yourself as a patient. Obviously, the baby needs care and your other child needs care, but you need it just as much, and I definitely went through a lot of phases where I was just like, not taking care of myself like I should have been. I felt like my body kept just reminding me, like, you need to slow down. I’m going to give you another hurdle here to slow you down, to slow you down.
Kristin: And as you said, you’re someone who’s always on the go. I can relate to that, and I don’t like to slow down for anything. So, yeah, but it is key to be able to have your mother there to mother you, and that’s what postpartum doulas – you know, we always tell our clients, the birthing person is our primary client, then the baby, then the partner and the other children. So it’s like – yeah.
Amber: I feel like you’re such an afterthought after birth. You know, like, you’re just expected to heal in this linear line. Unfortunately, I feel like women, if they’re in a traditional setting, it’s very cut and dry. You know, you give birth. You go through this process. They see you at six weeks. You’re cleared at six weeks, and that’s it, and it’s like there’s so much gray area floating around in that of – just so much gray area that you need to have somebody like a doula or just support people in general to just let you know that you’re okay and you’re on a road to recovery, and what you’re experiencing is normal.
Kristin: Yeah, and before we end, talking about building your team of support, what point – I know that you were seeing a pelvic floor therapist for healing. At what point were you able to get help after healing?
Amber: It took me a long time, mainly because of my tissue damage. So I wanted to see a pelvic floor therapist immediately. Like, I wanted to see them at six weeks, but at six weeks, I had to be restitched. So to have anybody down there doing anything was just cringe-worthy for me.
Kristin: Of course.
Amber: So I feel like I got a later start to therapy than I wanted to have, but it was also just – it was my timeline. And so I just started seeing a pelvic floor therapist about six weeks ago. I’m dealing with some prolapse, as well. So I wasn’t sure that’s what it was. You know, I was experiencing just sensations down there that I knew wasn’t normal, but once again, when it’s your first vaginal birth and you’re healing from that, you don’t know what normal is.
Kristin: Right. You have nothing to compare it to.
Amber: Nothing to compare it to, yeah. So, yeah, I’m dealing with some prolapse, so I’m primarily going to pelvic floor PT for my prolapse. And also my pubic bone is still giving me problems. It’s not nearly as bad. I can walk, but still, overextending it, overexerting it, I still get kind of sore. But the prolapse is the big thing at this point that I’m trying to get under control.
Kristin: But you’re back at barre, slowly.
Amber: I am. I am back at barre, yep. And honestly, I know I talked about it for pregnancy, but it’s such an incredible thing postpartum as well because so many of the movements are engaging your pelvic floor and engaging your core muscles, and those are the things that you need to build back up after having a baby and being pregnant. So once again, it’s been such a huge blessing in my recovery process that I’m just so lucky that I have. Yeah, I’m grateful for sure.
Kristin: There’s so many lessons in this podcast as we wrap it up here. I think one is listening to your body. What other advice do you have for our listeners?
Amber: Grace. Being so graceful with yourself and just trying so hard to deeply love yourself through it. I had this really intense moment that I’ll share that’s pretty vulnerable, but it was kind of a little bit of a breakthrough with me. So I didn’t really realize how much I had abandoned myself during my healing process. I was kind of in victim mode a little bit and just feeling like I didn’t understand why all these things kept happening, and I was just in kind of a dark space and not connected to myself. I was impatient. I was just not feeling good. And so I took a bath one day, and I was doing this loving kindness meditation, and the beginning of it was doing a body scan and just feeling deeply into your body, and I just started bawling in the bathtub. And I didn’t really realize at first where the tears were coming from, and then I realized it’s because I have not even paid attention to my body like that in so long. Like, to even feel in my body, to feel where tension was, and it was just such an emotional moment, and I just, like, hugged myself in the bath, and I just felt so sad at how I had been treating my body and myself.
Kristin: Because you’re caring for your son and…
Amber: Yeah. I felt like I had this big dream of having this unmedicated vaginal birth, and then I did it, and that was like – that was it. I didn’t think about it anymore after that. And I didn’t really, like – I didn’t celebrate that success, you know?
Kristin: Yeah, your body did it. You beat the odds.
Amber: Yeah, like, I just was like, okay, well, on to the next thing. Now we’re going to heal. Now we have this long process. And I didn’t give her credit for all she had done and all she was still doing. And I just think deeply loving yourself through the healing process and loving your body, loving the fact that your body is making milk and still feeding your child and giving life to your child and healing itself and all of the things it’s simultaneously doing. I just wish I would have had that realization sooner because I just wonder if my process would have been different if I would have been more in tune and more in love with myself through it.
Kristin: It’s hard when you’re in the thick of it to really see the light.
Kristin: I’m so glad that you did.
Amber: Me, too. It took a little bit, but I always end up coming around at some point with some crazy lessons along the way. But yeah, I just think my advice is, put as much thought into your healing process and postpartum and the support that you need as you do into your birth that you want because it is a bigger journey than birth is and than pregnancy is, at least it was for me. And I just wish I would have put more thought into that and, like, just what I needed and what I – I don’t know. I went into it really a little bit blindly and was blindsided because of that.
Kristin: Beautiful, yes. I agree. And we talk a lot about that in the Becoming course about how postpartum is as important. So thanks for sharing your story, Amber. We need to talk about our stories more, so I appreciate you.
Amber: Yes. Thank you so much, Kristin. I really appreciate it.
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