We are back in this series on Becoming a Mother to talk about the Postpartum Period. To be honest, the hardest part wasn’t actually labor or delivery for me, although that was challenging. It was the postpartum period that truly tested my strength. You have just exhausted yourself to bring life into this world, you are healing and adjusting. Everything you know has changed. Your entire world has changed. And that transition can be more painful than childbirth itself.
Not Picture Perfect
When you see Instagram photos from after birth, you usually see a look of pure bliss, makeup done, hair brushed, and it looks like a dream. But it’s not always as blissful as you see or hear about.
Social media can create the perfect image to show you a moment that doesn’t accurately display reality. The reality is usually tangled hair, covered in sweat, and who knows what other fluids, and just completely frazzled.
My Postpartum Experience
I can’t speak for anyone else’s postpartum experience but I will speak from my own. I did not want any visitors, which was fortunate because it was during the pandemic and no visitors were allowed. Truly, I didn’t even want to talk to anyone or even share the news of the birth. I was in a dark place, overwhelmed and exhausted. And I knew that my husband and support system were so excited, but I just couldn’t meet them in that excitement.
Don’t get me wrong, I have wanted this baby for so long and wanted a boy even. Of course, I wouldn’t want anything other than to have my baby boy healthy and earthside. But this darkness and exhaustion was consuming. That lack of excitement made me feel like a bad mother. I began parenting with this deep feeling of guilt and convinced myself that there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t myself.
Welcome to the Postpartum Period
After giving birth, you are needing to recover from the trauma of childbirth while being immediately tossed into parenthood. This postpartum period is an incredibly vulnerable and raw time for new mothers. It makes sense that you may not be ready to entertain guests, even if you had originally planned to. But do consider taking those people up on their offers of food or breaks for you to nap, even if it’s a raincheck for later on. I can tell you, those breaks are priceless and much better gifts than any of the physical gifts you will receive at a baby shower.
During this postpartum period you are exhausted and sleep-deprived. People will tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” but that will feel impossible. If you aren’t struggling with insomnia, you might end up feeling like you should use this time to do the dishes, tackle the mountain of laundry that’s building up, or if you are feeling really fancy… shower. Sleeping when the baby sleeps sounds great in theory, but not always possible in practice.
Becoming a Mother
In the postpartum period, you are learning how to be a mother. This means you are meeting your baby and meeting this new version of yourself. This new responsibility of yours is non-stop. No one teaches you how to care for a newborn. You are having to respond to your newborn’s needs around the clock. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. Add a baby’s crying into the mix and it’s enough to bring you to your knees.
Even if you have a good support system, you will be taking on more than you are used to. And most likely more than anyone else, including your partner. Because of this, it’s lonely. This loneliness comes in the middle of the night when you are the only one awake to feed your baby and during the day when you’re on maternity leave but your partner has returned to work.
During these most challenging and lonely times, it’s not always the best time to call your support system. They are probably sleeping or at work. Even then, as lonely as you are, you still might not want to see or talk to anyone when you do get a chance. It took me 6 weeks to even call my Dad. That is crazy for me because if you have followed my story, you know how close I am to him.
All the Feels
You are working through so many emotions at this time. And you are going to cry. Like a lot. You will cry in the middle of the night, during dinner, and in the shower (if you are lucky enough to shower that day). And you’ll cry all by yourself and also with your baby as they cry. You’ll cry because you are happy or for no reason at all. It will seem absolutely uncontrollable and I’m here to tell you that is normal.
At one point, while I was in the hospital, my husband had to leave early in the morning due to military orders. I offered to stay up all night with our newborn and did not accept his help so he could sleep. As you might expect, he woke up at 4:30 AM to me sobbing uncontrollably. Because our son had been cluster feeding or breastfeeding basically non-stop. And I had not slept at all that night. I was crying because I was tired. And crying because I didn’t have a mom. This is not something that often brings me to tears, as I have spent my entire life used to not having a mom.
Hormones… Back At It
Part of this is due to hormones. Yes, I hate blaming anything on hormones. I know we talked about this in the pregnancy portion of this series, but it’s true! Your hormones are still leveling out and normalizing during the postpartum period. They are running your emotions and actions and the sooner you accept this, the easier it will be to just go with the flow.
It will take months before your hormones return back to normal. In fact, Parents.com reports that 6 months postpartum is a good estimate for when your hormones will go back to normal. I’m currently 6 months postpartum and struggling with my own hormones issues. And I will be the first person to admit they have impacted my mental health up to this point.
Postpartum Mental Health
Sometimes the postpartum period can become so overwhelming that you need a little extra help, even if everything has gone according to plan. It might be more than just the “baby blues” that you hear people talking about. This is where you feel sad or moody for a few weeks following birth. When those baby blues don’t go away, you might need a little extra support. For me, it took me about 6 weeks to come out of my dark place, 3 months for the fog to clear, and 4 months to learn to love myself again. During this entire time, I was in therapy.
We’re going to go into it a little further. But if you find yourself experiencing postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum rage, or anything else that is too overwhelming to handle on your own, please talk with your physician about your mental health. And do try to be as open as you can with your partner or support system. Start getting that team together for you. They will be there to help you!
Postpartum mental health is something that is stigmatized, and it’s not fair. It’s something that many women deal with. Even celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, and Adele have all spoken out about it. Brooke Shields even wrote a book on postpartum depression.
Postpartum anxiety can be pretty common among new moms as well. I remember reading that some parents watched their baby while sleeping to make sure they were breathing. And knew I wasn’t going to be like that. But I was wrong. I still find myself checking on him at night, trying to see if his chest is rising and falling when he’s sleeping. We ended up getting an Owlet Smart Sock (HIGHLY recommend) to ease my mind after not being able to sleep well for the first few weeks.
Being a new mom in the middle of a pandemic just adds even more anxiety into the mix. I gave birth to my son in Hawaii, where the numbers were pretty controlled and it felt generally safer than the rest of the United States. But, I found myself anxious to the point of anxiety attacks at the thought of anyone coming near my son. Even going to a grocery store made me anxious because people were closer than I was comfortable with. I was afraid to leave the house.
When all of these ideal expectations don’t go to plan or your baby just won’t go the f to sleep, you might experience some postpartum rage. You might find your blood boiling over something that you’d usually have a lot of patience for. Or you might end up lashing out at your partner in a situation you’d normally remain calm. I am not an angry person by nature. Generally, I am very cool, calm, and collected. But I found myself becoming unreasonably angry in situations that might have just caused me to be frustrated. It turns out that my hormones were all out of whack. But I didn’t know for at least two months because I was too embarrassed to admit how much anger I was experiencing.
Postpartum rage can stick around longer than you are used to with intense feelings. It can be harder to shake off these feelings. Sometimes they can even become so bad that you think about hurting yourself or others. As I mentioned before, if you reach this point or any other point that is too overwhelming to cope with, please call the national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Talk to your physician, step away, and call a loved one. Reach out to someone, please. That is your first step.
And we can’t talk about postpartum mental health without talking about Postpartum Depression. I felt like a zombie for the first 6 weeks. Like I mentioned before, I couldn’t even call my dad for that long. Let alone talk to anyone else. Thankfully my husband took pictures during that time of our son because I didn’t want to take any myself. I appreciate looking at them now. But in those moments, I could barely get by and didn’t feel a desire to do anything. This can make a lot of women feel like they aren’t connecting with their baby, their partner, or even themselves.
Really, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. My body had changed. It felt different to me, ruined. Your baby was a part of you. Now that part of you is apart from you. My body felt empty yet too full. I expected the weight to fall off after birth. Because everyone tells you that breastfeeding just makes the weight fall off of you. But no one tells you that you still look pregnant after giving birth. And that you most likely won’t be fitting in those pre-pregnancy clothes as soon as you’d expect to. You end up in a weird in-between size – too small for maternity but not small enough for your old clothing.
And who has time or energy for exercising with a newborn? You don’t even get cleared for that until your 6-week postpartum appointment, assuming you are healing well. I wasn’t cleared until 8 weeks. But I can tell you that I wasn’t even ready to jump back into exercising like I thought. It was walking and light yoga for me. Don’t try to rush the healing process. And definitely don’t have sex earlier than you are cleared for.
My Postpartum Body
I have been struggling with accepting my postpartum body. I used to cringe when my husband tried to touch me because I was so ashamed and embarrassed by this seemingly changed body. He has continually been directing me back to my post on promoting body acceptance during pregnancy and truly he’s on the right track. The process for accepting your postpartum body isn’t that far off. Slowly, I’m getting back to a more confident place and will be sharing more of that journey with you soon
To Do or Not to Do
Even when you are cleared for sex, sex after vaginal birth is going to be uncomfortable at the very least. I’ll be honest, it will probably hurt. You’ll get through it and it should get better the more you do it. But that’s the tricky part, who has the time and energy to be having sex all of the time? And when you do, it can be hard to move past the changes you’ve faced down there.
I personally struggled with my sexy bits now being used in a new way. I pushed a baby out of one and I was feeding a baby with others. When I first started using Clubhouse, I joined a room that was for body positivity. I quickly realized it was very specifically body positivity for your down-there special bits. It ended up being everything that I needed in my life. These amazing women reminded me that my sugar bowl, as they called it, brought sweet life into this world. And that is the single most powerful thing my body is capable of doing. It is the most precious thing on this planet. Men have fought wars over that sugar. Women are truly magical.
The other piece I was having a hard time overcoming was that my breasts were now being used for breastfeeding. It can be hard to view them as sexy again when you are spending more time than an actual full-time job trying to breastfeed your newborn. Breastfeeding is hard and exhausting. It can also make you very tender, which isn’t exactly something you’ll enjoy in the bedroom.
And for those mothers who aren’t able to breastfeed? You can view them with anger. They might not be producing enough milk, if any at all. Or maybe milk isn’t the problem, but it’s your baby’s latch that is creating issues. Whatever the reason, you might be feeling like a failure for not being able to breastfeed. But as I mentioned in my article on breastfeeding, fed is best. Just remember that you are feeding your baby, that is all they know and all they need. You are a good mother for feeding your baby, no matter what that looks like.
Caring for Your Body
Also, let’s talk about the realness of personal hygiene, or lack thereof, in the fourth trimester. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I showered. Dry shampoo and coffee are holding my life together at this point. It’s not that I never get a break or help from my husband to shower, it’s just that showering ends up on the bottom of my priority list. It’s the mountain of laundry or the dirty kitchen that are stressing me out, not a lack of showering. I will say that this doesn’t do much for my body image. When I do take the time to shower, brush or braid my hair, and maybe even put a little bit of makeup on, I feel like a full human again. Until the clock strikes midnight and the spell is broken.
But I get it. It’s not always easy to accept your body, your bits, or any of the other new changes that come along with a new baby. You will experience postpartum hair loss and you might pee a little now when you sneeze. There will be days that you feel ugly or don’t even recognize yourself. But that is all pretty normal and to be expected while you are still adjusting back after childbirth. Your body is capable of getting to a place where you will feel normal again, no matter how impossible that seems right now.
As with anything in life, no normal stays the same forever. Everything is evolving and growing. This is a new normal. A new and improved normal.
In the next part of this series, we will talk about adjusting to this new normal – what to feelings to expect, meeting yourself as a mother, and so much more. Continue on with me on this journey through motherhood.
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