The following post is a collective account of friends and clients who have shared their postpartum experiences with me over the years. It is our hope that our stories will help those who read them. The personal stories at the end were gathered more recently, and I would like to give a special thanks to all of those who have contributed to this post in some way. You know who you are.
To say that our lives had changed was an understatement. Never before had we experienced something quite as transformative as adding a new person to our lives and families. As first time parents, we were just barely learning the ropes of having a new helpless human to take care of. As veteran parents, we wondered how we would manage with another human being. How would our families change? How would our other children accept this new member of the family?
Many of us were in a lot of physical pain during this time. Many of us were recovering from long, traumatic births. Even if our births were “easy,” we did not make it out of the birth process unscathed. We had stitches somewhere. We were sore in places that we didn’t know existed. We were leaking bodily fluids from just about every part of our bodies, from the lochia that reminded us of the warm home from whence our babies came, to the night sweats of the early days. Our sore, tender, leaking breasts never let us forget that there was a new baby in the family. Some of us suffered through sore nipples, engorgement, and mastitis in those early postpartum days.
Our sleeping habits had changed. We were warned that we would never sleep again, and many of us hoped that somehow, we’d be different. Some of us were terrified at the thought of never sleeping again. Some of us were experiencing bone-tired sleep deprivation for the first time in our lives. We were trying to take the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” but we found that it just wasn’t possible to do that. When were we supposed to eat or shower? When were we supposed to have time to ourselves? These were the first inklings of sacrificing sleep for “me time.”
We were no longer in charge of our own schedules. Gone were the days that we could just get up and go somewhere at a moment’s notice. No longer could we shower when we wanted to. Taking care of basic bodily needs, something that used to be such a thoughtless, easy part of our lives, now took advanced scheduling and help. Sometimes we didn’t even notice that it had been a few days since our last shower. The days and nights melted into each other, and time lost its meaning.
Emotionally we were all over the place. For the first few days, we may have experienced that famous “birth high” that we had heard so much about. We were surviving on pure adrenaline and oxytocin. Around the third day, everything came crashing down. Most of us were home by then and were expected to take care of a new human, who don’t really come with instruction manuals. We were already discovering that our baby didn’t follow the rules anyway. After surviving the second night, the night where babies wake up to the world and keep us up all night, we began to be initiated into new parenthood. We were tired. We began to wonder if our friends had all lied to us and if those baby experts actually knew what they were talking about. Did they even know anything about babies? Even if we didn’t actually cry, we felt like it. Our mature milk was coming in, and that, combined with everything else that was going on, made us feel like crying.
This time was busy. Time flew by. There were so many visits. Some of us welcomed visitors and loved seeing them love on our new babies. Some of us dreaded the thought of other people touching our babies. Some of us felt both. There were visits with family, friends, lactation consultants, midwives or OBs, pediatricians, doulas, photographers, and chiropractors. So many people were a part of our lives in those early days. Some people came with food, gifts, and offers of help. Others overstayed their welcome and added stress to our lives. One thing was certain. We knew our babies better than anyone else, even if others did not agree. Our babies needed us, and we needed our babies just as much.
As the first two weeks came to a close, we reflected on how much we had learned in such a short amount of time. Our bodies had healed so much. Our breasts were mostly cooperating and our nipples felt so much better than they did in the beginning. What some of us may not have realized, was that this two week mark was an important milestone. Were those “baby blues” dissipating and turning into a distant memory? Or were they lingering? If they were lingering, this would be the time to reach out to a professional to receive additional help. This would be our introduction to “self-care.”
“There was a lot of anxiety and love and tears. I felt so overwhelmed. The entirely of my days was spent focused on my baby, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to rush to the bathroom when my husband got home from work to finally drain my bladder that I’d been holding all day. My anxiety kicked in, and I was so terrified of doing something wrong or accidentally hurting my baby. Between my sore nipples and healing 2nd degree tear, I was hurting. I would have random moments of sadness and fear for the future. I constantly doubted how in the world I was going to be a mother, much less a good one. I was desperate for showers and food because the postpartum hormones and breastfeeding had me swearing like crazy and sticky with sour milk, yet I didn’t trust anyone to watch my baby while I showered. If I was there and the one watching him if something were to go wrong, at least I’d know everything that could have been done to help was done. But if someone else was watching him and something happened, I’d constantly hold anger and resentment and doubt that they actually tried. Also, having people over to help or to drop items off stressed me out because I preferred to figure out motherhood in solitude. Motherhood is humbling! I was terrified of one of both of us getting sick, and watching others clean or do chores around the house made me overwork myself since I was not comfortable sitting in bed while people did work for me. The cabin fever quickly set in, and I desperately ached for something to do outside of the apartment. It was so much work and so exhausting to get both of us ready and gone, not to mention my baby’s reflux. Car rides were nonstop screaming and choking which led to moments where he stopped breathing. And I was constantly anxious of getting into a car accident. And to be totally honest, I hated when anyone but myself was holding him, even my husband. My hatred for my husband holding him diminished quickly, but anyone else holding him made me feel sick to my stomach, especially if he cried at all or showed any signs of stress. I quickly grew to resent being around family because I felt obligated and pressured to let them hold him, and I wanted to say no. I knew that I’m his mother and I can say no whenever I want, but I felt like the bad guy constantly as it was.
So all in all a lot of anxiety and stress.
But that’s not all. Every single moment of my day was spent learning and studying my son. Every time I looked at him, I welled up with tears at how much I loved him already and how absolutely perfect he was. I said so many prayers of gratitude. And I was ridiculously proud of myself for birthing my baby without any medications. I felt empowered, and I had renewed faith and respect for my body. I was providing every single thing my son needed, and I was with him 24/7. I loved it! I quickly learned his cues for hunger, pain, stress, etc, and I was so proud of myself for that. I was amazed at how quickly my body was changing and my belly was shrinking back down. I was so grateful that I always had enough milk. I learned to trust my gut when I felt like something wasn’t right. I practiced juggling a screaming baby in one hand while making food/eating/peeing/brushing teeth/etc in the other. As exhausting as it was, I was proud of myself for it. I felt so incredibly fulfilled. All I wanted to do (and got to do) was snuggling my son and just love him. I’m grateful for those first two weeks because I really feel it gave us a step in the right direction for our bond.” -Jill H.
“With my first, she had to stay in the hospital longer than I did, so when I went home, I couldn’t take her with me. It’s hard to put into words how I felt because I was a mom, but I didn’t have my baby home with me. Her birth was rough, so physically I was exhausted. I was able to get some sleep since she didn’t come home right away. Once she was able to come home, I was finally able to try and breastfeed her. I couldn’t at the hospital due to the fact that she had a feeding tube. I was tired because I finally had my baby home who didn’t sleep through the night. I felt overwhelmed and lost as a mom. I was terrified of being a bad mom, and that fear was from my childhood experiences.
With my second, I wasn’t as worried. I knew what it was like to be sleep deprived, but is was still hard. I was able to take him home with me, which was a nice feeling. His birth was easy, so physically I didn’t have as much to heal from. It was stressful. I don’t make a lot of milk, so trying to pump, take care of a newborn, and a 19 month old was a lot to juggle. Finally, I had to accept that my baby was going to be a formula baby.
My third was similar to my second except she had jaundice. We had to take her to a lot of extra appointments the first few days we brought her home. I had the choice of keeping her at the hospital or bring her home but having to take her to the doctor a lot. I wanted my baby home. I had to take her to get her blood tested a few times, which I hated having to hold her while she cried. But I knew as her mom, I could comfort her.
With my fourth, my husband had more time off. I was able to have more help. The main thing that stressed me out was the some people cleaned my house and literally rearranged stuff in my house. When I came home, I had to reorganize my house. That caused me more stress than taking care of my newborn. I was tired. I couldn’t sleep during the day at the hospital becasue there was construction happening on the floor above me. I couldn’t sleep at night because I had my baby in the room with me. I slept every chance I could once I got home.” -Jessica L.
“It took my L & D recovery nurse showing me how she had to catch me if I fell for me to back off trying to walk everywhere.
It took our NICU nurse telling me that the pellet ice in the break room made the best ice packs, and I needed to sit down with my feet up.
It took me checking myself back into triage with a fever on Day 5 and talking with my midwife to know that hot flashes and feeling like I wanted to lay down in a snowbank was just my hormones regulating. That it might take a few days, but that it was totally normal.
The first night home was the weirdest sleep of my life. He was already a week old and sleeping a couple hours at a time. When I went to bed for the night with him in the bassinet next to me, I had my eyes closed yet was so aware of everything-the room, the light, the sounds he was making. I knew I was asleep, but it was like I still knew everything that was happening in the moment with some other vision.
The THIRST. They say you will be thirsty, but they don’t tell you it will be a thirst that can only be slaked with gallons of water at a time. I was never so thirsty in my life.” -Katherine M.
“My mother-in-law who had 6 children always said that postpartum was like champagne and strawberries, so dreamy and perfect. In the thick of the sleep deprivation, sore nipples, and constant care of a tiny little human, I would think, “this is NOT champagne and strawberries. This sucks!” But once those first very few hard weeks and months are over, I look back and think it was actually pretty sweet, like champagne and strawberries. I think you forget a lot of the hard parts and remember the snuggles, the first smiles, and the milk dribbles. It’s probably well-designed that way.” -Cheryl A.