by Deborah Lynn
We have all read the celebrity stories about the Moms who breezed through pregnancy, labor and delivery; and were back to their pre-baby bodies in 6 weeks. These women are by far in the minority. They have access to assistance and interventions that most of us cannot afford. For example, it's great to read about the exercise programs many celebrity new moms use to get back into shape; however, most of the rest of us can't leave the baby, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and other daily work to focus on an extensive exercise program. There are realities about recovering from birth after age 35 that you don't often read about, but that you should be aware of. These are some of the things I wish I had known about recovering after the birth of my daughter:
Exhaustion: believe it! I heard this at my birthing classes and from friends and colleagues. I didn't believe it. I was in great shape, strong, well prepared. Not like those other women. HA! The majority of us, particularly those of us over 35, will be very very tired from the delivery (which may have kept us up for 20 or more hours, a portion of which involved really hard work). Once you go home, you are already operating on a sleep deficit which you probably aren't used to. Then, your exhaustion is compounded by waking up every couple of hours to feed your new baby. I was a great sleeper prior to my pregnancy at age 44 (8-10 hrs a night) but was operating on about 2 hours a night for the first 2 weeks of my baby's life. Now that my baby is 6 weeks of age, I am getting 5-6 hours of sleep each night and that seems like a luxurious amount!
Stretching tissue, trauma and stitches. This will happen. Believe it! Giving birth hurts. It stretches your body in places and ways that it has never been stretched. Sometimes this requires an episiotomy and sometimes your tissues tear. During my recovery in the hospital, each time the nurses checked my stitches, there was generally some sound such as "oh" or the comment, "you are really swollen". I didn't actually have the courage to feel down there for several weeks. Things were different with my body and 6 weeks later, they still are. I know that I will normalize, but I was not prepared for the length of time for recovery. I have new found respect for all women who have given birth, particularly those who have given birth over age 40.
Compromised bladder function. This was probably the impact for which I was least prepared. When the nurse moved me from the labor bed to the bathroom, liquid flowed down my legs and on to the floor. I was shocked. "Was that urine?" The nurse told me that my bladder control would return in around 6 weeks. It is getting better but I still need to wear pads for leaks. Do your kegels like the doctors tell you to do. The incontinence has been tough for me emotionally but I have adjusted and am improving. It doesn't happen to everyone, but it is a possibility you should be aware of.
Painful bowel movements. This never occurred to me prior to my delivery. If it was addressed in books and classes, I didn't give it much attention. Following delivery, the nurses started giving me stool softeners in the hospital. This was my first clue that something was up. I didn't have a bowel movement for 3 days (despite being regular daily my whole life). That first experience was painful and caused a small amount of bleeding due to my stitches. I still have some minor bleeding but am almost to the point where I don't dread going to the bathroom. I know that this information may be too graphic for some readers; however, I wish someone had been direct and candid with me before I experienced it in reality.
Difficulty walking due to pain. I remember my first walks around the recovery floor after AJ was born. Very slow and deliberate. This was surprising to me because I have always been athletic and walked daily with two large dogs up until the day I gave birth. Again, a consequence of labor that I hadn't considered. Today, nearly 7 weeks after AJ was born, I am walking on the trails with AJ in her front carrier and two big dogs in tow. I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get back to this point. The truth is that the stitches and trauma to my body during birth just caused pain and I needed to let myself heal. Once I realized that I wasn't superwoman and took the time to rest and recover, my stitches healed and I was out walking again. I am looking forward to being able to ride a bike and/or run again soon. Listen to your doctor and take the time your body needs to heal.
Some women will not experience any of the above impacts. Some women will experience all of them, and many women will experience one of more. Understand what can happen and be prepared for recovering from labor and delivery. Talk to your doctor to learn what you can do to lessen the possibility of experiencing each of the above as well as their impact if you do experience them. Most importantly, don't worry. You will be bringing the new love of your life into this world and he or she is worth any temporary physical impacts.
Deborah Lynn is a former fortune 200 executive who left the corporate world to focus on having her first child at the age of 44. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Education from the University of Kansas; a Master's degree in Kinesiology from the University of Northern Iowa and conducted doctoral work at Indiana University in Physiology. She is now the mother of her happy and healthy infant daughter, Alexandra. Over35newmoms contains detailed information about getting pregnant over age 35 including infertility testing, sperm donor selection, artificial insemination, labor, delivery, special considerations for moms over 35; and even designing your baby's nursery.
Copyright © Deborah Lynn. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.