Physical therapy for pregnancy, postpartum and forever

When I was pregnant, my husband asked me: “Does your back hurt just all of the time?”

From the profile view of my pregnant body, not only did my large belly stick out but my poor back curved in with an exaggerated slope near to an angle.

Like a hinge.

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Look. at. all. that. baby.

Pregnancy was not kind to my body. Turns out, it was especially unkind to my back.

Around 28 weeks into my pregnancy, I complained to my doctor about a pain in my butt and how much of a pain-in-the-butt it was to sit and stand, roll and turn. The only thing I could do without pain was walk. My doctor told me this pain was common to pregnant women with sudden weight gain, loosey-goosey ligaments and all around changes in my body. It had a name: sciatica.

She also told me I wouldn’t have to live with it.

I went to a physical therapist to treat my pain and confirmed the diagnosis: poor posture coupled with the every-growing weight of my child put too much pressure on my poorly cared for spine. The pressure inflamed the sciatic nerve — the giant one based in the low back — and caused my pain. Sciatica.

Pregnancy-safe floor exercises, hourly backbends and a near-constant ice pack soothed my inflamed nerves, and I got through the remainder (plus four days) of my pregnancy as pain-limited as possible expecting it would go away once I was free of the torment of carrying around 9-pound, 5-ounce monster baby.

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Daily exercises with my towel roll.

And I fared well for a time postpartum. Prescribed pain medication for breakthrough cesarean pain — because that’s a real thing, and it’s real bad — and rotating Tylenol and ibuprofen for the days after delivery likely did a great deal to cover up what would be one of the most painful sensations I would come to remember.

Because I don’t remember labor pain. You were all correct. Thanks in advance for not rubbing it in.

Eventually, postpartum turned out to be just as bad for my back as pregnancy. Poor posture during breastfeeding — I would have sat on my own head to get that kid to latch — and hunching during diaper changes, clothing changes, bath time, even pumping caused my nerves to fire up.

The pain wasn’t in my butt anymore. It was in my back. It got so bad I couldn’t stand to sit for my workday, and lifting my son became a strain. So back to physical therapy I went.

The physical therapist prescribed the same stretches, the same floor exercises, the same little backbends and the same heaven-sent ice pack. She proscribed the same lifestyle she’d steered me clear of during pregnancy: no yoga, no sitting without support, no hunching, no high-heeled shoes. And added that I shouldn’t bathe the baby in the tub.

And I did it. Exercises, backbends, lumbar support everywhere I go. I did it all.

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My husband even helped. Sleeping on an ice pack in solidarity.

At the end of my treatment, when we had worked my pain to a manageable number — 1’s and 2’s instead of 9’s and 10’s — and, yes, there were 10’s — she checked my transverse and rectus abdominis. Pregnancy and a C-section thankfully didn’t completely destroy my core, and I escaped with only minor separation of my abdominal wall, called diastasis recti.

Two inches is a minor separation.

Pregnancy introduced me to back pain. Postpartum, I assumed everything would go back to normal. I assumed wrong. This is my new normal, my every day. Because it never goes away — it gets better, and it gets worse.

I recently went back in physical therapy to treat 9-level pain. How did I end up here again? I stopped doing my exercises, my backbends, and I ignored lumbar support. I stopped treating my back. I was healed, after all.

When the pain is better, you don’t see the immediate need to correct your posture, stretch your spine, ice your flare ups. Take care of yourself. Because you’re not in pain right at that moment.

I know now I can never stop treating my back.

The pain comes back, and it comes back like Batman — vengeful and usually at night.

My physical therapist says, “We’re going to get you well.” Which means we’re going to get me on a program that makes the pain better — 1’s and 2’s at the worst, never a 9 or a 10 — and then I’m going to stay on that program for three months on my own.

And then I’m going to keep doing it forever.

Palmer Physical Therapy Lumbar Support Pillow

#mealprep: Baby food edition, vol. 4

When my husband and I decided to make another human and care for said human by providing all the necessities — nourishment, safety, love — I made grand assumptions about how that human would interact as part of our greater family unit.

He would sleep here or there and for this long and he would breastfeed for this long and start solid food at this age and he would enjoy being locked in baby jail — the sectioned-off portion of the living room WITH ALL HIS TOYS — and he would eat organic and… the list goes on.

Today, the saga of trying to provide nourishment to a tiny human continues. In case you missed the build-up, read:

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Newborns instinctually know that food comes from the momma but they do not instinctually know how to get the food from the momma.

My son’s inability to latch for the first few weeks of his life and his bizarre head-shaking motion when he did not immediately get food were proof enough of that to me.

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Babies, after successfully getting the hang of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, suddenly need solid food. So when you’re finally comfortable getting them to consume milk or formula, you have to introduce pureed nonsense to the mix.

My son’s first bites were immediately pushed back out of his mouth. Oatmeal, pureed sweet potato, mashed bananas… everywhere.

Invest in bibs. You’re worth it.

Then, after getting the hang of eating and swallowing pureed food, and after getting everyone on a breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule that works for both the baby and the parents, you have to throw actual solid food into the mix.

That you have to cook.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

My husband and I operate in the reality that this baby has to eat what we eat — that we’re not going to make him special food because he’s a baby and doesn’t like tomato sauce — that we’re not going to cave and make him chicken nuggets when he balks at the idea of eating an actual piece of chicken.

We’re operating in this reality.

But we’re not operating well.

I leave work at 5 p.m. — a respectable and perfectly normal time to leave work. Because I am the. luckiest. woman. in the world, 5 p.m. is also when my mother-in-law brings me my son from her house. So my son and I are settled in at home by 5:30 p.m.

I start dinner.

Usually, I need to dice onions, slice up peppers or chunk other vegetables, prepare a salad, get chicken thighs ready for their hour-long oven roast, “salt and pepper to taste” — you know, cooking things. To do any of this preparation, I need two hands and the freedom to move from one end of my galley-like kitchen to the other.

TWO HANDS and the FREEDOM to move.

Ha!

How do you cook with a toddler?!

What might have taken an hour, now takes nearly two!

I used to trap him in his baby bouncer, but he’s about an inch away from being able to climb right out of it. Plus, he hates it.

So I have to watch him like a hawk.

I tried to distract him with snacks, but the dog always steals his puffs — and he thinks it’s hilarious so he just feeds the dog the puffs.

Which are not cheap and not for the dog!

I tried to ignore him and let him wander around the baby-proofed parts of the house, but he gets bored or something and chases me around the kitchen whining.

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Pay attention to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Seriously, how do you cook with a toddler?

Plus, he’s hungry at 5:30 p.m. because — back when he was a baby — we trained him that’s his dinnertime by feeding him first omg what is wrong with us we’re so dumb.

So I give him a yogurt pouch and hope for the best (i.e. hope it doesn’t end up in the carpet or his hair or wherever he decides to squeeze it).

And it’s still not enough.

This toddler can toddle himself into a fine hangry rage when not fed in proper time.

On bad evenings, we eat the mom-gave-up-box-of-mac-and-cheese.

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Gourmet Mac and Cheese — because I put an avocado on it.

On better evenings, Matt and I eat dinner at 7:30 p.m. By ourselves. Henry will have two or three bites of family dinner, and then cry about being in his highchair because he’s full from his yogurt snack, and the follow-up squeeze-y pouch, and the handful of puffs, and the 8 ounces of milk. By then, it’s bedtime, and Matt and I are eating cold dinner at 8 p.m. And that’s like half-an-hour off my bedtime.

HOW. DO. YOU. FEED. TODDLERS. Gaaaaaahhhhhh.

I can’t make his dinner first, and then make our dinner — we’d never eat real food again! Plus, his food has to be monitored the whole way down his throat to ensure he doesn’t choke on it. Because, while toddlers have teeth and can tear and chew and mash up solid food, they’re still terrible at feeding themselves.

Legit, from newborn to now, he did not get better at eating.

Pasta is impossible to pick up. Spoons are for the weak. Toast is an olympic event.

On the nourishment front of parenting, my son is fed and happy and healthy. On the nourishment side of adulthood, my husband and I eat bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese more often than I’d like.

But it’s organic so there’s that.

Baby’s first birthday

There’s a photo of his cake, all covered in white and blue frosting, simply reading: “Happy Birthday, Henry.” There’s a photo of us sitting with his great grandparents, my grandparents, who he doesn’t get to see often enough. There’s a video of us singing happy birthday and a few blurry photos of my son eating cake in my poorly lit dining room, and there’s probably a video of me cry-reading through a poem my grandfather wrote for my son. There’s photos of my son playing with his toys and fussing about nothing and toddling around the house. There’s a photo of his Mickey Mouse and Superman birthday cards and the green polkadot “1” candle I plan to keep forever in a memory box already filled with newborn clothes, hospital bracelets and a little hat that still smells like he did when I held him for the first time.

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There aren’t enough photos. There aren’t enough videos. In the age of constantly having a camera, I didn’t use mine enough.

I hope his confused stare as he listened to family sing “Happy Birthday” for the first time, and the look on his face after the tentative bites he took of cake he’s never tasted (before diving right in), and the happy giggle he made while showing off his walking skills leave an imprint in my brain of this day.

So while I won’t be able to share it with you, not really, I can remember it as I watch my not-so-little baby continue to grow up too fast.

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Monthly photos with the white onesie and white bed sheet and cute stickers ended at eight months old. I have a few blurry photos of him straining in the onesie, rolling around in his crib and eating his sticker. After that, I chose to get him in action shots. Because he’s all action, all day long.

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Happy birthday, baby boy.

#mealprep: Baby food edition, vol. 3

The first foods my son ate I made myself — you know.

Making my own baby food became too time-consuming, so I switched to store-bought jars and pouches. I even boasted about finding good deals at my grocer — not as good as homemade, but near enough to satisfy this mom.

Then, the constipation struck.

Not my own, my son’s.

In the imaginary instruction manual I’m going to write for hospitals to hand out to new parents on their way home with their bundles of joy, I’m going to have a whole section on constipation.

What it looks like. (Rabbit poop.)

What it sounds like. (A lot of fuss.)

What causes it.

When I asked what caused my son’s sudden constipation — thinking it was something I’d been eating — the answer came matter-of-factly and immediately from other moms’. Like it’s well-known. Maybe it is.

But I didn’t know.

“ABC’s,” they told me, which stands for apples, bananas and cereal (of the rice variety). The internet confirmed.

I checked the pouches I’d been getting for $0.69-1.29.

Apples, apples, apples. Bananas, bananas, bananas. Apples, bananas, apples.

Of course.

OK, I thought, I’ll get baby food without apples or bananas. He doesn’t eat a lot of rice, no rice cereal.

Constipation solved!

Perusing the baby food aisle during my next grocery shopping trip, I discovered something annoying about my go-to store-bought baby food brands: If it’s inexpensive, apples and bananas are the first ingredients.

What. The. Hell.

If I wanted something with a pineapple-, pear- or spinach-base (that also wasn’t just sweet potatoes over and over and over again), I needed to cough up nearly $2 per pouch — still less than the $3-per-pouch brand of rainbow-infused wheatberry ground by hand.

But still.

Now, with fewer coupons in hand, I split my baby food spend between super apple-y food and food without the ABC’s — just in time for my son to decide he needed to eat THREE jars and pouches per meal, instead of two.

Yaaaaaaaaay.

On top of this, we’re weaning from breastfeeding — at a year of breastfeeding (my goal) and the end of my patience with the whole mess (but that’s another blog post) — so I buy whole milk.

I’m not sure if you can sense the eye roll in my writing so I’m going to go ahead and indicate one in text form.

::face-with-rolling-eyes::

Constipation is a demon akin to teething when it comes to the fuss my son can work up. He’s pro at fuss.

To cure his condition, my husband and I overcompensated. The cure for constipation is to increase oatmeal, prunes and maybe a dairy product so I put all three in his face daily in hopes of relieving his discomfort.

It worked, but… what we didn’t know was how the side-effects of a round of ear-infection antibiotics would interact with his constipation and new diet.

Our intentions were so good, you guys.

The result? A poo-pocalypse of epic proportions. Like something out of a horror movie. Every poo during Baby’s First Christmas was a blow out. I think we made two baby-poop-caused stops on the way home from Indiana.

I shudder thinking about it now.

This is going in the instruction manual, too. Crowd funding soon.

::face-with-rolling-eyes::

Baby’s first Christmas

Happy New Year! But, first, Happy Christmas!

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Christmas is my favorite holiday.

Spending time with family, eating delicious food, an expanded variety of candies, giving presents. Oh, man, ya’ll. I love it all.

I love the tree.

I love wreaths.

I love things that smell like pine.

I love the lights and the tinsel and the ornaments.

I love Hallmark Christmas — and I am not ashamed.

I love Santa.

I especially love the cookies and milk bit, and I can’t wait to lie to my son about it. SO excited.

New favorite thing?

Christmas jams. (He might have had three different pairs because I can’t control myself.)

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And. This. Baby.

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Shut up!

Not pictured are Matt’s and my Christmas pants. Mine — red with white snowflakes, a woman’s size large. His — gray with red snowflakes, a woman’s size large… But that’s another story about how H&M doesn’t size their clothing well and how my husband can wear pants made for women because OF COURSE.

Anyway.

We visited family in Indiana for Christmas, which is a 12-hour drive from Home Sweet Home, if you were curious.

Truthfully, we didn’t make the entire drive in one shot on the way out. We left the Thursday evening before Christmas, pit-stopped in Missouri overnight, and then drove the nine remaining hours Friday to arrive just in time for dinner.

The shortened drive didn’t seem to matter to my son. Near the final hour, he simply gave up.

All he was.

All he knew.

Was carseat.

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The long drive coupled with the excitement of seeing cousins — not that he understands ‘cousins,’ but boy was it exciting! — tuckered him out for a nice long sleep Friday night. He woke in a good mood for family pictures Saturday morning.

Unlike Kansas, which is currently dry and cracking (or is that my skin), Indiana is wet. Wet and cold. Just cold enough for snow.

 

Big, fluffy, Narnia level snowflakes, folks.

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During pictures.

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Absolutely magical.

family christmas photos in the snow

There’s nothing more storybook than waking up to a blanket of snow in the dim morning light just days before Christmas. For our son’s first, we had a white Christmas.

It’s Hallmark — and I love it.

I hope you, too, had a very Merry Christmas.