Postpartum Experience: A Female Physician’s Account of Returning to Work After a Short Maternity Leave Part 2

The first few days were a blur – I couldn’t feel my legs, they were so sore. It honestly felt like I had run a marathon.

Week 1: On the 3rd night after the hospital, we went home, and during our ride there, I cried tears of joy looking at my baby boy, telling him how glad I was that he had arrived safely in the world. Later I was at home learning how to use the two breast pumps I had so I could start to create a stash of milk supply. I started this so early because I knew I only had a short maternity leave of 6 weeks - typical for most resident physicians in the United States.

Week 2: My husband was home for two short weeks of paternity leave. The nights were longer than we anticipated, taking shift work with feeding and trying to get as much sleep as possible. Baby was doing well, but I started to have severe coccyx (“tailbone”) pain. It was so severe, that I could barely sit to nurse my baby, lay down, or sit to eat at the kitchen table. The only position that provided some relief was to stand, but even that, for prolonged periods was hard on my body since my knees and legs were still recovering from childbirth.

Week 3: My husband returned to work, and then my mom came to help. All I remember for those next 3 weeks before going back to work, was feeding my baby every 2-3 hours, and then pumping in between the nursing sessions. I wanted to make sure I figured out how to pump before work started, and I collected a freezer stash of milk.

Week 4: The other thing that occupied my mind, was figuring out the schedule for my nanny who would be starting at 6 weeks postpartum. There was so much to get ready before work started back again, but the time passed so quickly. I wished I had more time to cuddle my baby instead of having to worry about returning to work so early. I knew that pumping sessions and a bottle had to be introduced within the second week due to my short leave.

Week 5: It was the week before my first, standard OB doctor visit. Shockingly I realized that my 6-week postpartum doctor visit was scheduled for the same day that I was scheduled to return to work for my resident duties. How in the world are you supposed to see your doctor at 6 weeks and start work the same day? Insane, to say the least. Since I knew that if I returned at 6 weeks, I would only have 1 week (5 days) for vacation for the rest of the academic year, and I knew I had to use some of those days for educational conferences as well as a big move to Texas for my fellowship at the end of June, I moved my doctors appointment up by a week to ask if I would have clearance to start at 5 weeks postpartum. That way I would have 2 weeks of vacation banked to use. I came back to work at 5 weeks postpartum. I was not even physically healed at that point. My second day back, I was in surgery rooms all day, and my knees and legs were aching while performing skin surgeries. My pelvic floor was definitely not even healed yet. It is quite sad that we do not allow women to heal and go through physical therapy prior to starting work. I dealt with gas incontinence, and it was embarrassing. During that week, I would bring a donut pillow to sit on in the workstation while typing patient notes, because I was still recovering from my severe coccyx (tailbone) pain. Ibuprofen was NOT helping the pain.

Week 6: Even then my body still was not ready. Whether you have a natural birth or a C-section, most women need at least 8-12 weeks to heal completely from childbirth, have their baby start sleeping longer stretches, and start to slowly ease back into the work routine.

Week 7: I started to go to a pelvic floor physical therapist, and thankfully after working with her for nearly 3 months, I am close to having my full pelvic floor muscle strength back.

Week 8-12: I was pumping every 3 hours at work, functioning on less than 4 hours of sleep most nights, on a 24/7 call month, not to mention still had my 60+ hours work week with chief resident duties, studying and preparing for lectures, and more. The days and nights continued to be a blur and I felt very overwhelmed at times, but I had to keep pushing through.

For more, be sure to follow Nikoleta @drnikoleta or subscribe to her podcast The Millennial Doc Podcast.

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