Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

My name is Ashton and my little guy’s name is Victor Joseph. He was born December 10, 2018 at 2:01am at the Natural Birthing Center at Inova Loudoun assisted by my midwife, Shannon Wise. My husband and I lived on the Cape in Massachusetts for the last few years but before Victor was born we moved down to Lovettsville to be with family.

My labor and delivery was remarkably short and thankfully with zero complications. Victor immediately latched without any hesitation and so we started our nursing journey on a really high note. While in the hospital I met with their lactation consultant to ensure I was doing everything I could for Victor and obviously it was the first practical application of the knowledge I had learned during my prenatal classes. Holding a wiggly baby and trying to be calm was harder than when I practiced with a doll! ;-) When Victor was 4 days old, we had a home visit from a lactation consultant, this time with a woman named Dru (she is AMAZING!). We sat in the nursery and talked, she made my husband and I feel so at ease that he was even piping in and asking questions. She introduced me to nursing laying down which was, and still is the go-to position that Victor and I enjoy most.

Victor was doing a great job nursing, but my mama blues caused some amplified anxiety and I became anxious that I was not producing enough milk even though we were nursing and pumping what felt like 24/7. At 1am after a particularly hard day when Victor was about 10 days old, we made the call to introduce formula. We had not considered it, so we had not bought any – we just had some Similac samples that we had received in the mail. But Victor was hungry so we knew it was the right thing to “supplement” his needs. As my husband began mixing the formula, I crumpled to the floor and cried. It was so heartbreaking that I went in the bathroom and sobbed while he gave Victor his first bottle. I couldn’t reconcile how much of a failure I felt like. I had milk! He was latching! Why wasn’t there enough?!

Over the next 2 weeks we got into a routine of 1 bottle of formula a day. In retrospect it was a good way for my husband to feel involved and it gave me a chance to shower, breathe, etc. but at the time it was like a knife in my chest every time the formula came out. Victor was growing like a champ and didn’t seem to mind anything, so we decided to keep supplementing.

When Victor was 7 weeks old, we took him on his first plane ride. We flew to Europe so he could meet his other grandparents and when we landed in Dublin someone commented that they didn’t even know a baby had been on the plane! Score!! Over the course of the 7-hour flight Victor had nursed and slept the entire way and seemed so content; I was so proud that my body was there for us and we didn’t break out any formula! While on that trip I nursed almost exclusively only breaking out the formula when I had a little more wine than I had intended – I felt so empowered and like we had gotten to the other side.

Now Victor is nearly 11 months old and recently completed his 21st flight (!), I could go through the last 9 months in the same level of detail, but the important thing is that this is a journey and we are doing our best. I went back to work when he was 3 months old and thankfully I work from home so I see him throughout the day and we are able to carve out little cuddles and nursing moments but that doesn’t mean some days I’m not juggling him squirming to finish a feeding while trying to prepare for a presentation. These days we follow an 80/20 solution … meaning, the majority of the time I nurse but if I need a break or if I forgot to pump, I don’t sweat it. Sometimes I even give him the bottle. I do still hate pumping, maybe it’s some residual “PTSD-esque” association with the pump, who knows? But I do know that my baby is thriving. He is loved and growing, and his belly is full. What more could I ask for?

We have traveled the world with him since he was born, and I love knowing that no matter where we are, I can care for all my baby’s needs. I dread the day when he weens – I am not in a hurry and I am not on some clock. I had told myself I wanted to nurse until he is a year old and take it from there. Now with the introduction of solids and him eating them so well I feel like the nursing is a special treat and I will let it go on for as long as he likes.

To all the moms out there struggling or just starting their journey – you are not alone. You are a rockstar and should be so proud of what you have accomplished: you made a human!! And never be ashamed to ask for help – it takes a village, that is one of the biggest takeaways from our travels. Motherhood is a really cool, special club and you’re in it now, there are members all around the world that would love to bolster you and see you succeed – including me, best wishes to you!! 

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Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth

Postpartum Vacation

Postpartum Vacation

Ok look, we both know that the early postpartum days and weeks are nothing like a vacation. Those days, and those long nights, with a newborn are hard, hard work. They may even be some of the most challenging and transformative of your life. But when it comes to making plans for your family’s maternity leave, your baby moon, your fourth trimester, it may just help to look at it like it’s the vacation of a lifetime…

The trip is smoother when planned thoughtfully in advance. You wouldn’t wing an entire overseas vacation and your postpartum should be treated with the same care. How will you get there? What books should you read about your locale? What local guides do you need to book ahead of time? What will you eat? What special clothes will you need? What do you need to pack in advance and what can you pick up along the way? What’s the budget look like? It’s perfectly ok, often even necessary sometimes to improvise along the way, but get that itinerary outlined before you leave.

You focus on spending time together. The most important parts of any vacation are the people you travel with. The same is true in the first six weeks. This babymoon is like a honeymoon for your new family where you celebrate and steep in this new person at the center of your universe. And like you wouldn’t take just anyone with you overseas, consider your postpartum travel companions carefully. Choose those who add positivity to the experience, not those who add stress or anxiety.

You don’t do chores. No one goes on vacation to do chores. Vacation time is for maintenance only, not deep cleaning. You eat out, you pay the hotel to wash your linens, you live out of a suitcase and maybe you wear the same things a few days in a row. Take the “I’m on vacation” mindset with you into those early postpartum days and weeks. This is special time that you don’t get back. Do what you need for comfort and function and the rest will be there when you return.

You treat yo’self. On vacation you eat nourishing food that makes you feel good, and as much of it as your body wants. That spa menu looks pretty dang tempting. ROOMSERVICE. You’re recovering from your journey into parenthood and adjusting to spending your days keeping an entire other person alive so if there was ever a time for a little lux in your life, it’s now. So get that massage. Schedule the house cleaner, the dog walker and the landscaper. Visit your chiropractor and acupuncturist. Find a postpartum yoga class. Call your postpartum doula.

Your schedule is wack. Birth is some serious jet lag, friend, and you’re going to need plenty of recovery days built-in. Days and nights flow differently on vacation and in those early days with a baby, and that’s ok. Take naps, eat whenever you feel like it, watch movies in the middle of the day. Newborns don’t have schedules, so don’t fight it, just embrace the weirdest sleepover party of your life.

You keep an open mind as you traverse new terrain. Being a new parent is a lot like waking up in another country. You don’t know the language or the customs and the info from the guide books only gets you so far. The best way to learn your way around is to dive on in. You’re gonna get lost a few times, but you’ll be a local before you know it.

The landmarks all look different. There’s nothing like finally reaching a landmark that you feel like you already know from every angle from your research on Pinterest, Instagram and your friends’ travel photos: It’s never quite the same in real life as it was in photographs. The same is true for parenting milestones with your IRL baby. Uniquely beautiful, meaningful, celebrated and hard-earned, yes, but they never quite the same as they appear online.

You don’t always come back feeling rested. Have you ever taken a trip and come home worn out, needing a vacation after your vacation? There will be bumps in the road, blisters, sunburn and rainstorms. You will get turned around, maybe miss a flight or lose a reservation. But life with a newborn is just as wonderful, just as exhausting, just as frustrating and just as worth it. 

Bon voyage!

Image: Bergen Howlett Photography

Life After Birth |  Prepping for Postpartum, Kid 1 vs Kid 2

Life After Birth | Prepping for Postpartum, Kid 1 vs Kid 2

As told by Kayla:

We’re about two weeks out from welcoming our second baby, and I’ve noticed there’s a big difference in the way we’re preparing for her, compared to our first. 

Sure, there’s a lot that’s the same — pre-washing the clothes, blankets, bibs, etc.; setting up the swing; setting up a pack & play in our room; setting up changing stations; stockpiling diapers. There are small things about this process that are different – we washed everything in Tide Free & Clear instead of Dreft because our first had a reaction to fragrances and so everything had to be rewashed when she was a newborn. This time, we’re just starting with free & clear or sensitive everything – soaps, detergents, lotions… you name it, if it comes in an unscented variety, that’s the one we have. 

But the biggest difference is the way we’re prepping to make my life easier after kid 2. When you’re having your first, almost all of your focus is on getting ready for baby. At least, it was for me. I made loose plans for myself postpartum – mainly about how long I’d stay home from work and whether or not I’d be willing to respond to emails. 

But this time? This time I’ve spent more time setting myself up for a better postpartum.


Coming to Terms With Reality

Well, the first way is by embracing the reality of birthing a child. You’re going to bleed. A lot. It’s not a normal period. It doesn’t go away in 5 or 6 days, and your normal pads aren’t going to do the trick. You can’t wipe for a while after having a baby. At least, I couldn’t, not with the stitches from my tear. So a priority for this go-round was creating my bathroom baskets – each basket (one for each bathroom) has adult diapers (I found hospital-provided mesh underwear to be super uncomfortable, so I’m actually bringing some to the hospital too), the thickest, biggest pads I could find, equally large, but thinner pads, Dermoplast, Frieda Mom’s new witch hazel vag pads, and their peri-bottle. Overkill? Nope. Nothing worse than sitting down and then realizing you don’t have your peri-bottle. Or that you don’t have the right size pad you need. 

Knowing My Boundaries

During our birth class (with Bergen & Julie – you’re the best!), my husband and I both drew our ideal birth and then shared the vision. We both drew us, surrounded by our immediate family – parents and siblings (I also drew our dog, but ya know, hospitals frown on that). And, that’s what we ended up with. We were surrounded by family for the birth, and then after the birth, while we were still in the hospital, we had lots of visitors come and see us and meet our daughter. But then, while I was home alone with a newborn on maternity leave, I was alone, a lot. Which was not good for my mental health. 

So this time, we’re limiting hospital visitors to parents and siblings. We really loved that aspect, but we’re asking everyone else to wait to visit until we’re home. I had a delayed bonding with my first daughter because in the hospital, I was either trying to get her to latch or sleeping between visitors. I got very little snuggle time. This time, we’ll be doing plenty of snuggling just for snuggling’s sake. I also need adult interaction. I need people to pop by and say hi and sit with me for a few minutes and remind me that there is a world outside of diapers and sleep and bottles. So we hope our friends and family will visit throughout maternity leave. 

Getting Rid of Clutter

My hospital bag for kid 1… I actually don’t think you can call it a hospital bag.. Because we had three? I am an over-packer by nature. You name it, I had it. Cards for my husband, a bluetooth speaker, snacks, drinks, a boppy, multiple outfits, diapers, wipes, blankets, a robe, toiletries…and I’m sure I’m forgetting things.This time, I’ve fit everything (including my preferred pump and pump parts) into one bag. The essentials. The hospital will provide diapers and wipes and pillows. I know I won’t feel like changing outfits a bunch. I don’t need to pack shoes because I’m going to wear shoes TO the hospital – I don’t need multiple pairs. I’m using hospital towels because I don’t need to bring home dirty laundry.

Focusing on Outside Time

Now, kid 1 was a November baby, so a good chunk of my maternity leave was over winter, which intimidated me. She’s too little to bring outside! But let’s be real- most of November and early December is totally fine for a properly dressed baby. Even late December and January is good as long as you dress your baby appropriately. But, I had PPA that went undiagnosed for a while, and that told me outside wasn’t safe. Kid 2 is going to be an August baby, and I’m better able to identify PPA thoughts vs valid concerns. So, this go-round, I’m going to prioritize spending at least 30 mins outside every day it’s not raining. Because, frankly, it’s good for the soul. And I think it may help prevent a backslide into PPA hell. 

Planning to Pump

I spent a good amount of time prepping to direct nurse with kid 1. It didn’t work out, and I ended up being an exclusive pumper. This go-round, I’m choosing to be an EP’er from the start. I decided I don’t need the stress I associate with trying to DN, and while I know that it can be different with each kid, I also know, in my bones, it’s the best way to take care of ME during post-partum. I can split night feedings with my husband. I can drop her off with daycare and know she’ll take a bottle fine. I know myself well enough now to know I need that freedom. And, this time around, I made it easier on myself. I splurged and bought a pumping-specific bag that can also double as a work/diaper bag. Because lugging 3 makeshift bags around was awful. I splurged on a tiny Spectra S9 portable pump, and a fanny pack to hold it in. 

I know there’s some stuff here I just wouldn’t have known as a first time mom. There’s some other stuff I realized after kid 1, but wasn’t ready to put in place. This time, I’m feeling more confident about what I need and what I want. And it’s not selfish of me to name these needs and wants and set boundaries to protect them or spend money on myself to make my life easier. 

When you birth a child, you’re also birthing a new version of yourself – as a mother, and you need love and support in this new phase too. Please ask for it. Please name specifically what you need, and tell people specifically how they can help you. People want to be helpful, but are often worried about crossing social lines. Tell them what you need. And if you don’t know, say that too. Sometimes it’s just as simple as not being alone. The newborn days are magical, but also really hard. And I’ve found they’re better when you call on your village to help. 

Sending love to all the mamas-to-be, the new mamas, the veteran mamas. You’re all doing a great job.  

Find Kayla’s exclusive pumping Milk Story HERE

More about the Life after Birth Project HERE

Photo: Bergen Howlett