The Truth About Postpartum
I hear a lot of "nobody tells you about..." after friends have babies. I said the same thing after having my twins. But the truth is. If someone was sharing all of this information before I was pregnant or thinking about babies, would I have been ready to hear it?
Would I have been ready to hear that in those days, weeks, months that everything can seem lonely? You can be surrounded by people but you feel more alone than you ever have in your life.
Would I have been ready to hear that not only are you recovering from a HUMAN exiting your body (in whatever fashion: vaginally or by c-section) but you spend your days trying to figure out how to live this new normal of running on very little sleep. And if you’re a coffee drinker, lots of cold coffee.
I'd like to think I would have listened. I'd like to think I would have been ready, but nothing can prepare someone for this. I never knew how intense the postpartum period could be, and to be honest, I think in the grand scheme of things, I had it pretty easy.
Even though I had twins in August of 2019, then was pregnant again in August of 2020 with an even more complicated pregnancy that included fetal surgery February 2021 and a C-section that April, I still think I had it easier than a lot of people. My support system is out of this world, my parents are both remarried and so are my husband’s parents, so we have tons of grandparents to help us out. Not only that, but my grandparents spend a ton of time with our kids and I am also really close with my brother and his wife who have two girls around the same age as my babies. Plus, we have some amazing friends that have helped out in various ways throughout these last few years!
I can't even tell you how impressed I am by single mothers or mothers whose partners are serving our country or who have moved away from their village and have very few people nearby. I can't even bow down to you low enough because you are the real MVPs.
The fourth trimester, as it’s referred to, definitely does not get enough credit. You’ve birthed a baby, feel like you've been hit by a truck, your vagina is out of commission, you’re in pain, your hormones are on overdrive, there are no days off, no hours of sleep that feel restful, you’ve completely changed physically, emotionally, and mentally, your mind is a mess, your anxiety may be high, you get sweaty at night, you don’t remember the last time you showered, you wonder what that smell of sour milk is…hint, it’s you.
You can’t remember the last time you fed yourself a healthy meal, and unless someone’s been bringing you food, you are relying on frozen meals for quite a while. GrubHub and DoorDash get a lot of your dollars, and while you wish you could find it in you to eat a vegetable, all you want are carbs and comfort foods. You’re trying to figure out how to breastfeed this newborn baby, all while crying through tears of a painful latch or lack of milk supply. You have probably leaked through a shirt or 12. You didn’t know other babies crying made your nipples leak. You have these killer boobs that you don’t want anyone to touch. Oh, and you might be pumping, which in itself is quite draining…literally.
Or you’re using formula and had to go through the anxiety of maybe 1. feeling bad for ending your breastfeeding journey (please know you should NEVER feel bad for this) or 2. you’re stressed about picking the right one.
You might have hemorrhoids, clogged milk ducts, your hair is a rat's nest, none of your clothes fit, you may have had a C-section so you can’t feel your nerves in your lower abdomen, you feel this unreasonable need to "bounce back" and lose the baby weight, you want to work out but you never feel like you’re going to work out again, you have no idea how you make it through some days.
You may feel resentment or frustration towards your partner because their body didn’t change and yours did. They can easily sneak in a workout or work on that project they've been wanting to do. They aren't breastfeeding the baby. They aren’t attached to a pump. They can go hang out with their buddies for however long they want without a ticking timebomb ready to explode (yeah, I'm talking about your tits, they feel like rocks when it's time to feed your baby). Some days, no matter how much your partner supports you, it feels like it will never be enough, and at the same time, you are so grateful for the help that they provide. You cry because they aren't helping enough, then they ask you how they can help and you cry because you don't know why you're crying but you are mad at them and you don't remember why. It’s a wild time for a relationship. It will really test the foundation that you’ve built. It will cause strain on your love life. You probably won’t want to have sex for a while, and that’s OK. I cannot, and I can't reiterate this enough, CANNOT believe that women are cleared after six weeks post-delivery, try more like six months before you even want to do that again.
You want people to come over, but you want them to leave you alone. You want the help, but you feel this need to prove you can do it yourself. You want to cry, but you want to show your family you have it put together. You’ve wanted this baby for so long, but you don't feel as happy as you expected. Some days you wonder why you’re crying, others you’re too tired to cry. You’ve probably binge-watched more TV than you ever have. Every day feels like Groundhog's Day. You’re so full of love for this new little life but you’re wondering how you’ll make it to tomorrow. Oh man, and add in if you have any toddlers or other kids to take care of. Your to-do list seems never-ending, you wonder if you’ll ever sleep again, your friends don’t quite understand the changes you’ve gone through, especially if they don’t have kids.
You cuddle your baby as the laundry piles up at your feet. You feel a need to be productive on this maternity leave, but you can't seem to find the energy to move from the couch. You scroll social media, feeling like all these other moms are doing so much more than you are. You look at your kitchen and the dishes stress you out. Who knew pumping required so many fucking parts? Oh, and don't get me started on Dr. Brown's bottles.
Your nipples are cracked, your acne is a mess, your hairline looks like a toddler took scissors to it as your postpartum hair loss (or growth...who knows) wreaks havoc on those luscious locks you gained in pregnancy.
Your mind is racing wondering if your baby is eating enough, if they are breathing at night, scared of the weird noises they make, then scared when they are too quiet. You drowsily make your way through night feedings. You have thoughts, scary ones, that run through your mind and you shake them out of your head to make sure they don’t come true.
Then there are the actual babies. The ones who are so cute but you don't know how they can produce so much poop. The ones who wont.stop.screaming. The ones who only want to be held at.all.times. The ones who are confused about daytime and nighttime. You know the ones.
Wood toys vs. plastic toys. Montessori vs. Fisher Price. Purées vs babyled weaning. To sleep train or not to sleep train. Binkie or no binkie. Must practice safe sleep, feels shame for co-sleeping. Picking the right bottle or diaper or daycare. Stressing over the over abundance of information available on the internet via Instagram moms and Dr. Google.
Oh man, and don’t even get me started on NICU parents. That’s actually going to be reserved for a whole other post entirely. I have too many feelings considering all 3 of my babies spent time in the NICU. Or medical parents who have a medically complex kiddo. You guys are handling things beautifully even when it feels like you aren’t.
Man. Motherhood is wild. Parenthood is hard, but becoming a mother is an entirely different beast.
It’s easily one of the hardest times I’ve ever experienced and again, I think I had it easy.
But you find a way. You navigate through it. You don't quit. You feel stronger. You realize you are incredible. YOU GREW A GODDAMN HUMAN BEING (orrrr multiple human beings). A living, breathing, human being who is here to change the world. If you are lucky enough, you might even be keeping them alive with FOOD YOUR BODY IS PRODUCING FOR THEM. You are the center of their entire universe. It's you and that little life. Together forever. They made you a mom. They forever changed you. You are Wonder Woman. You have never been more beautiful. You've never been this amazing. You look at this life you created and are constantly in awe.
And it doesn't end in the newborn stage. The first time they roll, or sit up, or sleep through the night. Each grunt they make that only you know means they want dessert. When they say "mama: for the first time, or the first time they repeat a swear word, or the first time they say their own name. The first time they go to school or graduate college or get a job. All of these milestones will be well worth that 4th trimester.
You may never get your body back, you have a new one. It's way more badass than that hot 20-something bod you had before anyway. Your house may never be clean again, but it's a sign of being well-lived in. You may never look at your partner the same again because you have both changed. And it’s usually for the better. And if it’s not…maybe that’s what’s for the better. You’ll learn things about yourself you didn’t know existed. A love you didn’t know you could have.
Everything changes in an instant.
I wish I would have taken the time to learn more about postpartum as I was preparing for the babies. To be fair, I didn't take any birthing classes and I read half of a book (Expecting Better) so I barely prepared for pregnancy and birth, but I wish I had thought "oh, there is more to this whole thing than just the first 3 trimesters". I think postpartum is almost MORE important than prepping to do something we were naturally made to do. You will technixally always be “postpartum” but these first 12 weeks are vital.
And you know what is vital about them? It’s not about making the most of your maternity leave. It’s not about cleaning your house each day. It’s about nourishing your body with good food as best as you can. It’s about sitting and relaxing and forgiving yourself for choosing sleep and baby cuddles instead of taking out the garbage. Recover.
You grew a whole ass human. In my case, two humans. Well…3 humans in 2 years.
The hard part is you need to let your people to show up. Your village. And you need to let them help. It’s no surprise the USA has terrible postpartum practices and traditions. Our maternity and paternity leave is laughable, considering a puppy is legally not allowed to be separated from its mother before 8 weeks—longer than a newborn— which is about 6 weeks if you are lucky. This is why it’s so vital to allow yourself space these 12 weeks for very low expectations of accomplishing tasks and expect lots of cuddle time. You got this.
Please, please, please, if you are pregnant, TTC, or currently postpartum, do yourself a favor and download this Postpartum Prep List from @happyasamother. You will need to enter your email but it's so worth it. Print it out, write on it, take notes, and understand you are not alone after you have the baby.
So many women have walked this path. Let's normalize motherhood not being all glitter and rainbows and "the best thing that'll ever happen to you". This shit is hard, worth it and amazing and on days will it feel like the best thing ever? Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to enjoy every minute. Maybe if we normalized this conversation pre-pregnancy, you wouldn't get hit with the shock of how wild it feels after the baby gets here. Everyone's experience postpartum looks so different than the others, do not compare your day one to someone else's day 170. You are incredible and doing an amazing job!