What having an 11 pound baby taught me about childbirth
What’s that you say? Eleven pounds? Yes. Eleven pounds. No, I didn’t have gestational diabetes. No, neither my partner nor I are big or tall. No, neither of us were particularly large babies. We have no idea why it happened, but it did — and no one knew until they put him on the scale. Only one percent of babies born in the U.S. are eleven pounds and most of those are cesarian births. I delivered my giant baby vaginally. If you ever want to be famous on a labor and delivery floor, this is a great way to go about it.
I’ll spare you the details of labor and delivery. What I want to talk about is afterwards — what I wish I’d known that I think every person giving birth should know. Having an eleven pound baby just threw these things into sharp relief. I’ve been a sex educator for 15 years and I didn’t know any of this before I gave birth so I figure most people probably don’t.
- Protect your pelvic floor. You might already know that you should be doing Kegels if you’re pregnant but there’s more to it than that. In some countries it’s standard practice for a pregnant person to see a pelvic floor physical therapist before and after birth. If your OB/Midwife will give you the referral and your insurance will cover it, please go. All sorts of things can happen to the pelvic floor during labor that lead to tight or loose muscles and pain from scar tissue. Thousands of people have painful intercourse, bladder issues and back pain for years after giving birth and don’t realize there’s help out there. It took me 11 months after I gave birth to go see someone and I don’t know why I waited for so long.
- You can make space for just about anything. Any time you read a book on labor it will say that you should be prepared to throw out your birth plan because you never know what’s going to happen. Not only do you not know what’s going to happen during labor, you don’t know what your recovery will be like nor do you know what kind of baby you’ll have or how you’ll feel about it or whether or not your friends and family will step up, and on and on. It’s all unknown. After giving birth I went on a bit of a roller coaster ride: I couldn’t pee (nerve damage), my stitches came out and had to get put back in (worse than labor), I still couldn’t pee (4 weeks total), I got really sick, and I had a giant baby that I couldn’t lift for the first 10 days or so. There were times when I thought I couldn’t take one more thing, but I did. You are strong enough and you will find the space and you will look back and be amazed at yourself.
- You need more help than you think. I know it can be hard to ask for help. I’ve watched lots of friends give birth. They’ve all had very different labors and recoveries and the biggest difference between how those recoveries have gone is how much help they had or were willing to accept. I basically forced myself into one friend’s house two weeks after she gave birth to find her all alone eating only granola bars. She hadn’t been outside since the baby was born. It was rough. I thought most of the help I would need would be for the baby but he was fine (most babies are) — I was the one who was a mess. A brief list of things other people can do for you: remind you to drink water or take pain killers or eat, buy/make you amazing snacks, draw you a sitz bath, remind you to put down your phone, hold you while you cry, force you to go outside for five minutes, make you laugh. Accept that you cannot possibly keep track of everything. You’re busy keeping a tiny human alive, let someone else help keep you alive.
- Try to find slow time. Having an eleven pound baby meant that I missed out on a lot of tiny newborn baby things I’d really been looking forward to. We came home and packed up half the (adorable) clothes that were too small already. I wanted to wear him all the time and that was out. He was too big for the infant bathtub insert (and lots of other infant inserts). I felt like I’d jumped ahead three months. I grieved what I wouldn’t get to do and desperately wanted time to slow down. I learned to savor moments instead: A sustained bit of eye contact; a smile while sleeping; a good burp. The firsts rush by and then they’re gone. Let go of whatever mistake you just made, try not to worry about whatever has to happen next, and just be with your baby because by tomorrow they’ll probably be different.
Thirteen months in to this parenting thing the only thing I feel certain about is that I have no idea what’s coming next. I hope the things I’ve learned will help me survive and appreciate anything that’s coming my way. If you’ve yet to take this journey or if you’re on it now, I hope it’s helpful in any way at all. You got this.