My mother arrived that fateful day with one mission: to take care of her own baby — me. Sure, she wanted to see Claire, hold her and coo over her, but her sole purpose was to look after me and to make sure that I was well on the road to recovery.
Ten days port-partum, I was still:
- Majorly swollen from water retention. In the past, being hooked up to an IV for just three hours had left me swollen for days, so you can imagine what 12 hours of IV and 5 hours of pitocin — another med that is notorious for causing water retention — did to me. The day after giving birth, my sister looked horrified as she pointed out that I had “Shrek feet,” and I had trouble bending and flexing every joint for a full week after birth.
- Bleeding. They say that most women will experience post-partum bleeding for 7-10 days after birth, but I am still bleeding as I write this…a full 17 days after giving birth.
- Experiencing pain in my cooch. I had gotten one short but deep second-degree tear from delivering vaginally, and needless to say it hurt whenever I sat down or got up. (The funny thing is, I have never gotten stitches before so I found the prospect of getting stitched up for the first time in my life on my hooha pretty amusing.)
- Feeling like a failure for all the trouble I was having breastfeeding.
- Suffering from the effects of crazy fluctuating hormones. I was crying every day, and every little thing seemed to set me off. Luckily, I have gotten MUCH better since then, and I’m pretty sure that I am not suffering from post-partum depression.
As soon as my mother arrived she ordered me to bed. She probably spent a total of 2 minutes with the baby before she began putting away the food that she had brought for me. She began cooking a monstrous pot of 미역국 (miyukgook, or Korean seaweed soup which is supposed to be very nutritious and helpful for post-partum recovery and increasing milk supply). She did the dishes and steam-mopped the floors. She folded the laundry, and as soon as the 미역국 was ready she brought me a big bowl to eat in bed.
My mother massaged my swollen calves, feet and ankles. She helped prepare warm compresses for my breasts and tsked tsked over the state of my blistered and bleeding nipples. She brought me the baby to hold and embrace.
I started to cry once more, because as much as I know that my in-laws care for me, I knew that when it came down to it their primary concern was for the baby. My MIL had been preparing dishes for us to eat and J had been a tremendous help, but I had been taking second place to the baby all this time. My own mother was putting me first and it was so clearly obvious that I couldn’t help but break down.
When I described to her the troubles I had been having breastfeeding/pumping in-between tears, she asked me why I needed to pump every two hours.
“Because that’s what all the books and websites say.”
“But every woman is different,” she challenged. “You need to give your nipples some time to rest and heal. Right now, the frequency and intensity at which you’re pumping keeps re-opening your blisters and creates new ones.”
“But all the sources say that the more frequently I empty my breasts, the faster my body will build up my milk supply.”
“Listen to me. Pumping every two hours is not only ruining your nipples, but it’s putting tremendous stress and pressure on you. Doesn’t stress affect milk supply too?”
She then went on to tell me how worried she is for me, especially in light of my previous stress-induced health problems (I had suffered a minor stroke two summers ago from the stress of my wedding and my new life as a newlywed). She told me the story of my father’s friend — how his wife was just like me: forever wanting to take care of everything herself, always putting additional pressure on herself, never asking others for help and always putting on a happy face in front of others. How she had suffered a massive stroke at the age of 41. How the entire right side of her body has been paralyzed as a result. How her two young children has had to grow up with a mother who is confined to a hospital bed.
“Don’t you think that a messy kitchen is preferable to leaving your child and husband to fend for themselves?” my mother emphasized.
I only cried harder.
When I began to feel sleepy, she quietly left the room and reappeared a few hours later with another bowl of 미역국. It was time for her to leave, she told me. She reminded me that I cannot take care of a baby unless I take care of myself first. She kissed me goodbye, and left.
To be continued…
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