Two and a half months ago I gave birth to my first child. For just two and a half months, I have been somebody’s mother. More specifically, a tiny, fair skinned boy who stares up at me with wide blue eyes. Obviously my life has changed drastically in the past couple of months, but I have slipped easily and naturally into the role of motherhood and a part of me feels I have been doing it forever.
During pregnancy, and as a new mom, everyone has advice for you. Advice on getting your child to sleep, on what they should wear, how often they should eat, when you should go out in public. You hear a lot of overused theories and clichéd advice like ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ and ‘take time for you’. I was prepared for all this advice—ready for it. But what I didn’t get was real advice about postpartum life. And I am not talking postpartum depression, I am talking what to expect regarding your new life and your body when you walk out of that hospital. We prepare for labor and delivery—take classes, read books, consult with doctors. But labor only lasts about a day. Why don’t we prepare for what our bodies will be doing in the aftermath?
1: Physical recovery. Let’s start with this: I had a third degree tear from giving birth. The pain was intolerable, and the hospital had me on Tylenol Codeine and Ibuprofen every four hours. I couldn't walk or sit up AT ALL the first two days; they kept ice packs strapped between my legs, and I bled nonstop. In the hospital, I was so dependent on the nurses and my husband—I wondered how on earth I was going to go home and care for an infant. I was terrified to leave that hospital on the third day. Labor, delivery and the aftermath are without a doubt the most vulnerable I have ever felt in my life. I felt pain in a whole new way I couldn't have even fathomed; I gave up any shred of modesty of self-consciousness that has ever existed within me.
Back at home, I could hardly walk, continued to bleed for over 2 weeks, couldn't sit without a ton of padding for over a month. While I surely didn't think I’d come back home pain-free, I was totally unprepared for the agony, and the constant bloodbath.
Lesson: There WILL be a recovery period for your body and your vagina and there will be blood, and unfortunately, it will be uncomfortable.
2: Breastfeeding pain. I always assumed it would be intuitive and natural. After all, people do it all the time, all over the world. I was wrong. I had horrific nipple pain from breastfeeding. My nipples were raw, cracked and bleeding. I dreaded the time when my tiny helpless son would be hungry. Despite consults with a lactation consultant, his latch was awful and small and we could never seem to make it less painful; tears welled as I cried through his feedings, my toes curled every time he tried to eat. I had no idea how I’d possibly go on feeding him and was terrified I would have to give up breastfeeding. After a week, I got a nipple shield which helped the pain immensely and single-handedly changed the entire breastfeeding experience to the time of bonding I had read about in pregnancy. I now attend an awesome breast-feeding support group. My nipples healed and I was able to wean from the shield at just shy of two months.
Lesson: Don’t assume it’s going to come naturally, and don’t let it make you feel abnormal if it doesn't. Don’t be afraid to meet with lactation consultants and talk to your doctor, and don’t feel ashamed if you have to use other methods.
3: What happens when everyone leaves. When your spouse is back to work, your sister flies back home, your mother is no longer over every day, and you don’t have a constant stream of guests dying to see the baby, then what? Really, It wasn't about help for me- though my family helped us so much in the first couple weeks—bringing food, groceries, running errands for us, cleaning…but it wasn't the help I missed, it was the company. Who else besides my mother and sister would just sit there with me and my baby all day? All I wanted to do all day was stare at him and breathe in his sweet baby smell. Who else would give me advice or comfort about my throbbing nipples or the fact that I couldn't even sit properly? It’s a quiet, lonely and somewhat startling feeling. I feared it before it was there, dreaded the loneliness that would come.
Lesson? Spread out your visitors, and look into local support groups.
4: New anxiety and paranoia (times one thousand). The first two weeks, I could only sleep with at least my hand against my son. I needed to be sure he was breathing, and couldn't help but wake up every half hour to check. I worried about every aspect of him, grew anxious and paranoid about any little thing that made me wonder about his safety and well-being. I obsessed. I was sick to my stomach about his clogged tear duct—which is super common and easily treated. I began to worry obsessively about bills and having enough money, I even cried in an AT&T store when they told me they were no longer doing a promotion that would have saved me money. (They gave me a free phone case and charger.) Around the third week, the anxiety started to calm somewhat—I still worried, but I was not worrying myself sick, and was not in tears at the thought of the little pimple on his chin.
Lesson: Just know it’s normal.
Which brings me to number 5:
5: Hormones. It’s no joke; the hormone thing postpartum is for real. Sure, I had heard about the post-baby hormone thing. I just couldn't imagine it being something I’d have to deal with. I wasn't depressed in the slightest, but I got choked up over just about anything. I cried easily, and sometimes for reasons I couldn't quite articulate—all of which related back to the well-being of my son (somehow, though often not so obviously). Like bills, or my parents bringing over a basket of goodies for our anniversary, or my husband going out to the plant store. Be patient with yourself. My hormones have mostly dissipated in the 3rd week (they’ll skyrocket once I am back to work, or have to leave him for any period) but I can function through normal tasks without crying.
Lesson: Again, just remember it’s normal and be sure you have supportive family and friends around.
6: The post baby body in general. There’s a slew of things to know. It’s squishier. I’m not in the biggest hurry to lose the weight, and am lucky actually that while my clothes are tighter, I am mostly fitting back into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe. I can feel that my abdomen muscles are stretched out and weak, and the feeling is strange. I also got period -like cramps constantly the first two weeks (your uterus going back to its original size). The cramps were worse while breastfeeding, sometimes leaving me keeled over. Through pregnancy, I had no stretch marks; somehow, I now have three on my stomach that appeared the day after he was born. Oh, and your hair falls out after you give birth. I am shedding like I’ve never shed before, and spend significant time cleaning out the shower drain, sweeping, and pulling the gobs of hair from my brush. And the boobs. My boobs leaked, which I wasn't prepared for, so buy pads for your bras—oh and it’s true that hearing your child cry makes you leak as well...so you can't forget your breast pads at home! Lastly, breastfeeding makes me constantly hungry—you are still eating for two, you know.
Lesson: Good to know, right?
Did I know, think about or prepare for any of these things? No, not really. I prepared for labor, for caring for my son. Not really for caring for myself, or even being aware of half the experiences I would have. Why don’t we talk about these things? Really, it would have just been good to know.