Postpartum and Breastfeeding

First 40 Days - Surviving Postpartum with Doula and Double Twin Mom, Lindsey Bliss

Paula James-Martinez

Intro

"The First 40 Days" is a term often used to describe the newly postpartum period, during which your body is healing, your hormones are shifting rapidly, and you are navigating the significant identity changes that accompany new motherhood or introducing a new sibling into the household. Full of tears, joy, struggles, and successes, no two postpartum experiences are alike. But just because postpartum is a unique experience for everyone, it doesn’t mean there isn’t inherent value in sharing, normalizing, and learning from each other. In the latest installment of our "The First 40 Days" series, we sat down with Lindsey Bliss, advocate both for women in birth and beyond, doula, and co-founder of Carriage House Lindsey Bliss.

Lindsey knows a lot about how to navigate postpartum, and she’s a force, but when I found out she’d had two sets of twins in just over two years, I needed to ask the now mother of seven just how she survived a very intense postpartum experience.

Needed: To start, could you tell me how you got into birth work?

So I began my work with advocacy through working to prevent sexual assault and abuse. And so I was involved in advocacy work right before I got into birth doula work.

But what really drew me to becoming a doula was the birth of my first set of twins. So baby number one was a singleton. I had a doula. The second pregnancy was twins. I was told I couldn't have a doula because, oh, well, they can't come into the OR for pushing, so why would you want a doula?

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And something about that whole process and it being twins and higher risk because of a multiple pregnancy, I was told a lot of what I should do and didn't realize that they were choices.

Regardless I really liked my OB. I thought that she was wonderful, but I don't think there was a lot of highlighting of my choices. It was like this is our recipe for delivering twins. 

Then the day that I went into labor there was somebody else there, somebody I'd never met. I didn't realize and no one told me that I wouldn't have the OB I’d seen throughout my pregnancy, or maybe she did and I didn't retain it? You know you're pregnant with twins. You don't retain everything.

I really didn't love the person who was there to deliver my babies. You know, he had a skill set, but he had made a joke, I think about putting an extra stitch in with my husband, which just was really uncomfortable?

In addition to all of this, growing up my mother was a Bradley childbirth educator, so she taught childbirth in our family home, she was a doula before that term was a thing. So at the birth of my first set of twins, I thought I had all the information. I had access to childbirth education classes.

I had a parent who was a childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and I still didn't know that I had certain choices and they weren't highlighted for me. I had to fight, I couldn't imagine if maybe I spoke a different language or if I didn't have the ability to choose the hospital in which I was giving birth, or if I had a different color skin or came from a different culture, would it have been a different outcome. Going in and coming out alive with just a disempowering experience versus people not coming out alive in our New York City hospitals.

Something just in me was like, okay, I need to help people to have a voice, it wasn't a trauma, it was just more my experience with advocacy work that propelled me into wanting to do more within the birth realm or within reproductive healthcare.

Needed: Let's talk about your postpartum story. When you found out you were pregnant a second time with twins, how did you plan for that ahead of time? What ages were all the children?

I had, my eldest was five and the first set of twins were two when the second set were born. So a five-year-old, two-year-old twins, and newborn twins. The second set of twins was a surprise pregnancy. So it was, oh, I'm pregnant. And then, oh, it's two more! So I definitely did not plan anything prior to getting pregnant. T

hen once pregnant, honestly, it was hard to plan when you have limited resources. For me, already having three children and also a stepdaughter who was a teenager at the time, having two more children, number five and six, financial resources weren't something that we had the ability to use to help us at that time.

I relied on familial support. And again, that was limited, not because of their desire to wanna help, but because they all had jobs. They could take off a couple of days, maybe a week, and that was it. The structure in which our grind culture is. We talk about the village.

I'm like, okay, right, but what if your village can't actually come and support you because they're also trying to survive themselves?

My partner was also starting a new business venture. So I think very soon after birth, he had to go back to work. So there wasn't a long paternal leave for him because he was starting a new project and he works for himself. So there's no paid leave for somebody who works for themself. He needed to go back to work pretty immediately.

I didn't have a postpartum doula, I didn't have nighttime support, I had family and friends I think at that point were a little scared of not knowing how to support or had dropped off maybe when the first set was born. There was just less of a community. I just think people are also trying to survive themselves, so that doesn't come from a place of like, poor me, nobody helped me, it was more a societal issue, less than the fact people didn't want to help. But I definitely did have expectations of help that were never met.

How did you navigate that?

It's why I'm not a postpartum doula.

I'm still working through my own postpartum experience, where my birth experiences were so wildly different. I can show up in a very open, non-judgmental, non-dogmatic mind space when supporting people through birth. When it comes to postpartum, I'm still working through my own postpartum feelings. So I don't think I show up as fully.

There is lots of learning and unlearning throughout this process, the postpartum space was quite hard for me personally. I think it’s unfortunate that the same is probably true for many moms.

That being said, with my clients, my birth doula clients, we talk a lot about postpartum. Because of my experiences, I am probably more of a postpartum-centric birth doula.

Postpartum, It's like planning for this big day, the way some might, plan for a wedding, you plan for the wedding day, but then do you actually plan for the marriage or for being married? I think about it like that, birth is this big huge event and then it's, oh, okay, the event's over. Now what? Now what do we do?

And when I meet with people, I talk about birth preferences. I talk about postpartum planning and I talk about intimacy and relationship shifts because these are all areas that don't get talked about. And then I also talk about the rebirthing of self.

Do you think you rebirthed yourself as a different mother each time? Or do you think it was just an evolution?

I think the rebirthing of self that was the most challenging was when I had my first child. I was in the fashion industry. A lot of my friends were going to clubs and to bars, buying expensive handbags. I was not, I was one of the first people in my social group and in my chosen career path that was pregnant and having kids.

I was in my mid-20s and that was a hard shift because I went from being in this very self-centering universe to being selfless. I started modeling when I was 15 years old and stopped around 25 when I had my first child.

So it was a decade of then learning and unlearning and rebirthing of self and then mourning what my life once was, even if it wasn't perfect, it was what I knew and not actually being meant.

I was physically prepared for all the things. I had all the gear, you know, all the stuff. None of that mattered because I didn't understand that you could be so wildly in love with this baby but also be mourning at the same time. And didn't know it was such a yes and and everything felt described as so black and white, so one or the other, good mom, bad mom, good parent, bad parent, like there wasn't room for the gray, which there was so much of that. Then the shame and all of that stuff that I think is inherent with most new parents.

The transition with my first was the hardest. And then the first set of twins, it was just logistical. I was going from, you know, having an older stepdaughter, a three-year-old, and then I had my first set of twins. Then with the second set of twins, it was bananas so many needs to be met. But my postpartum experience when I gave birth to my last child to my 7th, I nailed it. I nailed it.

Tell me why you think you nailed it last time around. What did you do differently?

I had fewer expectations of how it needed to be. I was not like, I have to breastfeed for a full year or I have to fit in my jeans or whatever stupid parameters we put on ourselves or I got rid of all those. Like I'm just gonna be, gonna be present in this expansive body, right?

And I got a postpartum doula. I had some more financial resources for somebody. Someone that was just asking how I was. I think she fed me lentil soup and was like, are you good today? And I, and really just that alone was a shift.

I also had friends do an honoring ceremony celebration for me before I gave birth. And the feeling of being held energetically by a group of people who shared how they loved me and how they were connected to me. It made such a huge difference in the feelings of being alone or doing it by yourself.

Physically my body was more messed up than any of the others. births, but yet the most positive, joyful postpartum experience because I knew that this hurricane in a teacup moment, was just a moment - versus trying to micromanage everything that happens in it.

In terms of actual physical preparation, what do you think people should do in preparation for postpartum recovery?

  • Make their room super cozy. The coziest way you can make their bedroom.
  • Make sure that you have little convenient baskets of stuff like chocolate, phone charge, your nipple cream, or whatever, have very convenient stations set up through your home so you don't have to leave your bed so you can heal. Have a little station set up in your bathroom for whatever type of care that you need to be doing.
  • Food. Make sure you're nourishing yourself because sleep is not something that most people are getting in the postpartum space. So nutrients are so, so important. Nourish your body because it's the only energy you're going to be getting. And so many people are depleted physically and so needing more nutrient-dense food, supplements, whatever that is, like really prioritize what you're putting in.
  • I don't think there was enough conversation around pelvic floor health. And it's something that wasn't talked about with me and is something that I talk to all of my clients about, even knowing what a pelvic floor is. I have some issues. I have a herniated belly button. I've had some light bladder leakage in the early postpartum period. It’s really common.
  • Protected sleep, meaning make sure that somebody is protecting little bits of sleep for you, whether that's a partner or a family member, meaning somebody you feel safe with holding the baby so you can have a solid stretch of sleep. If you have the resources for a newborn care specialist or a postpartum doula or a family member, really prioritize sleep is something I don't know I want to really highlight because that can be also a pathway to perinatal mood disorders.
  • And being prepared for sleep deprivation. I don't think anybody fully gets it until they're in it. Same thing with healing postpartum. Nobody gets it like, wait I didn't know I'd be in an adult diaper for like weeks. Like I didn't know, you know there were so many times that I said I didn't know this. I think people told me I just didn't want to hear them.

Any final things you would encourage postpartum?

I think being honest and sharing stories is something that helps people as well. Making sure in the postpartum space, you have either a support group, a therapist, or somebody that's able to witness you.

Because I feel in that immediate postpartum space, a lot of people share that they feel lonely or isolated or wondering if what they're going through is normal. just talking more, I think, or being witnessed. People wanna be seen and they want to be witnessed.

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Paula James-Martinez, Filmmaker and Editorial Director

Paula James Martinez is a creative producer, filmmaker, and former fashion editor. She is the director and producer of film company Semi-Retired Productions, and in 2018, started working on her directorial debut on the documentary Born Free, which investigates the truth about birth and maternity in America. She has since founded a non-profit organization The Mother Lovers to raise awareness of the US maternal health crisis.