Postpartum: What You Should Know

My blogger friend, laughingpromises, is 10 weeks postpartum and just wrote a post about the stuff that happens after you have a baby.  I empathized with her post so much that it made me want to write a postpartum post of my own.  I’d been meaning to write about this stuff for awhile, anyway.

Postpartum is TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH!  Maybe it’s just because I had a complicated delivery and maybe it’s just because it was my first baby, but I’ll bet there are plenty of women out there with easy deliveries of their second or third babies who will have had similar experiences postpartum. I can honestly say that the postpartum weeks were the most difficult part of my entire baby-having experience.  And because I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be, I was kind of caught off guard.  I mean, I knew that adjusting to life with a new baby would be a big thing and I knew that my body was going to have to recover from a pretty serious feat, but I just didn’t know.  I just didn’t know.

First of all, you have to understand that what makes the postpartum time so challenging is that it is extremely intense in a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual way.  All at once.

Physical

Our birth class instructor told us that within a week of having a natural birth, we’d feel like we hadn’t had a baby  I was planning a natural birth; therefore, I expected to feel pretty much 100% in seven days’ time…. HA!  I still don’t know just how off-base my instructor was since my birth turned out to be quite complicated, but I can’t imagine that even a very straightforward birth would leave me feeling tip-top after a week.

Episiotomy/Tearing

What I do know is this: If you end up with a complicated birth (like forceps and a 4th degree episiotomy, for example), it will take weeks- no, months- for you body to feel mostly normal again (I say mostly because I still have tenderness going on).  I was absolutely thrilled to have sex mostly without pain for the first time the other day (and it’s been 4 months).  The first two weeks were. so. horrible.  I couldn’t make a single move without pain and I had to think through what I was going to do before I did it.  Nursing sitting up was awful because I was sitting right on my undercarriage sutures, but nursing lying down wasn’t an option because that also hurt + my baby couldn’t latch that way for some reason.  The simple act of going to the bathroom was something I dreaded because when I sat on the toilet it felt as if my insides were going to fall out if I relaxed at all.  The only way I could pee at all for 2 days after giving birth was to kneel on a stool in the shower, and I was terrified the first time I had to poop.  You don’t realize how much you use your pelvic floor muscles until they’ve been cut in two.  I had to sit down to sneeze, cough, or even blow my nose because I simply didn’t have the support to do it standing.  It was embarrassing to have guests over for the first couple of weeks because I really needed to actually hold my hand underneath myself for support whenever I walked, and I just wanted to sit on ice all the time.  I remember the very disconcerting feeling of passing a little gas about 2 days postpartum and literally having no muscle strength to control it.  It felt like a liquid just flowing merrily out of my behind, and for a bit I thought I’d had diarrhea or something.  I ended up taking a few Tylenol every day for awhile.  When you give birth without drugs and then take them post-partum, you know it’s bad.  I did it just so I could even lift and carry my baby across the room or position myself in bed to nurse him.

Blood Loss

I never realized this before, but significant blood loss is a big deal, and it isn’t something you recover from quickly, especially when your body is already taxed beyond measure trying to make milk to feed your baby.  I was so weak and faint that I could barely walk across the house.  For a week or two, I literally only went downstairs once a day and even that was rough.  I almost passed out after the delivery twice, and each time my hearing faded.  My nail beds were white for at least 6 weeks.

Breastfeeding

Ok, yes breastfeeding is wonderful and extremely important for your baby and a wonderful bonding experience, but folks, it ain’t easy!  It’s so easy and convenient now, four months later, but for the first 2 and a half to 3 months it was NOT.  I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding, but I do think that women should go into it expecting it to be one of the most challenging things they have ever done in their lives.  I know that some babies and mamas pick it up so easily, but more often there are significant challenges.  By day 3, when I’d spent 3 hours in the middle of the night trying unsuccessfully to help my desperately hungry and frustrated baby to latch and nurse, I understood completely why so many women give up.  There were many tears (and my baby cried too).  Breastfeeding can seem awkward at first.  It can really really hurt at first.  It’s messy.  It’s time-consuming.  It’s confusing.  It will make you wish you were a camel and could drink gallons and gallons of water at a time (seriously, don’t EVER try to nurse the first couple of weeks without a huge glass of water within reach)! But, it’s worth it.  I was so determined not to give up and I am now being rewarded with a wonderful nursing relationship with my son.  I wish, though, that I’d known how tough it could be at first.

Emotional/Psychological/Spiritual

I really looked forward to that hormone surge and the wonderful feelings that I’d have after finally birthing my beautiful baby, but I didn’t realize how much of a mixed bag it might be…

Postpartum High

Giving birth is so emotional that you will probably feel like you’re another planet for a few days weeks months.  I loved loved loved the emotional high that I experienced the first couple of days postpartum.  It was like nothing else.  I really did feel like I could conquer the world.  My husband experienced an emotional high as well, probably because he had been so involved and present during the entire experience.  He couldn’t speak of our son or our new family without crying with overwhelming happiness.  I had really never seen him cry before, so to see him cry multiple times a day at the drop of a hat was really new for me.  I felt so so close to him and really felt that we connected emotionally in a way that I’d never imagined was possible.  He took to fatherhood so naturally and assumed care of our son and of me like he was always made to do it (he was,really).  He told me so many times how amazing I’d been and he looked at me in awe like I’d performed a miracle right before his eyes.  I think he saw me in a completely new way, like I was some kind of goddess.  Not gonna lie, I really enjoyed that part.  🙂  Every time I looked at my little baby boy, I felt like it was some kind of dream.  We’d sit in bed at night and just watch him sleep, marveling at every feature of his perfect face and delighting in every little sigh, every sleepy expression.  We were smitten together over a tiny little boy.

Postpartum Blues

At the same time I felt such love and joy, I also felt the most horrible sense of defeat and disappointment over the way the birth hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped.  It was a dizzing mix of elation and depression that had me cycling between high and low.  Completely exhausting.  On our second night in the hospital and I cried and cried and googled “home birth transfer” while my husband and baby slept.  Birth is such a rite of passage and such an important event in a woman’s life.  They tell you to have an open mind regarding how it will go, but it’s impossible not to have hopes and dreams.  It took me a long time to begin to really come to terms with reality vs. my own wishes.  Emotional healing can take even longer than physical recovery, and you really need to allow yourself the time you need.  Writing out my birth story helped tremendously.

I also experienced a very dark period during the couple of weeks after giving birth.  I wanted to just feel happy, but after you give birth all of the hormones that you had during pregnancy begin to shift and it takes its toll on you.  I felt that I was in a deep pit.  I felt angry.  I felt hopeless.  I felt terrified and trapped.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into and wondered if I’d ruined my life.  And I didn’t want to admit that I was feeling that way because it seemed so wrong.  I was ashamed of myself, but I know now that those feelings were normal.  Postpartum depression lasts longer and affects fewer women, but postpartum blues are very common.  I was so relieved when those feelings began to subside.  Getting out of the house a little bit helped, going places with my baby helped, and becoming more confident as a mother helped.

Mothering Instinct

I was shocked at how visceral my reactions to my baby’s cries were.  They could make me frantic, even angry.  I had such a strong strong drive to take care of him that when he cried I felt that I must find the reason and stop it as quickly as possible.  In the beginning, it’s tough because you don’t have the experience yet to always know what’s wrong or how to fix it. You have to get to know your baby.  If he was hungry, I could not allow myself to do ANYTHING else before feeding him.  It was such a strong compulsion, and my body would react by letting my milk down right away and I’d leak all over the place.  I could not rest knowing that he needed me.  Sometimes it seemed that he was crying because he was angry at me, and in my hormonally-charged, sleep-deprived state, that made me feel angry too.  At him, even though I knew that he was an innocent.  Feeling such strong feelings really scared me, especially the angry part.  I remember at times just laying him down for a few moments in order to collect myself because I was in no state to handle him.  I guess I just want other moms to know that it’s probably normal to feel this way and that you won’t feel that way forever.  Maybe I just have a low tolerance level for unexplained baby cries, but this was one of the toughest things for me, emotionally.  I would often just cry along with him because I felt it was a safe way to let go of my frustration and stress.  I often felt so upset at myself for not having more patience.  That has definitely improved with time, thank goodness.  🙂  Sometimes, though, I still have to pray for patience on really tough days.  Prayer- don’t forget it!

Body Image

I felt simultaneously so proud of my body for performing such a wonderful and difficult feat and so sorrowful over the beating it took.  I looked with a mirror at the damage about 3 days afterward, and it wasn’t a pretty site.  I will say that it was not as bad as I had expected it to look.  Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t look earlier because my husband was already telling me I was healing up so quickly and so well.  The hospital doctors said the same thing.  Still, I dissolved into tears one evening over the fact that I’d never have the same body I had before.  My perineum, though it’s healed up so much better than I ever thought possible, will never be the same.  My tummy, though I am blessed to not have any lingering fat, is still soft and weird and weak and bulges after a big meal.  I have an awkward skin tag that somehow got created when they sewed me up.  My boobs are bigger (ok, that’s actually great) and my nipples are forever changed (They may point down or sideways and be two miles long by the time Alex is done with them).  Yes, our bodies were made and specially designed by God to give birth, but birth also forever changes our bodies.  I had to mourn that.  We may have stretch marks, scars, dark lines, and tenderness that will never fade and we have to accept this about ourselves.  We have to let ourselves love our new bodies for the miraculous vessels that they are.  I will never again look at a pregnant woman without feeling a huge sense of pride and joy over the sacrifice her body is about to make to create life.

————————————————–

I wrote this post just to share my experience and to talk about the stuff that women don’t always talk about, either because we feel we should be focusing on the joyful parts or because we don’t want to scare other future moms.  I also wrote it as part of my own healing.  I don’t want to scare those of you who haven’t had babies yet, though, because the truth is: IT’S WORTH IT!  Yep, it absolutely is!  The joy I receive from the special smile my baby reserves only for me is like a huge thank you card that gets better and better each time I read it.  I fell in love with my son the day he was born, but I also fall deeper and deeper in love with him every day.  As he grows and reveals more and more of his special personality, my bond with him grows and just affirms that, yes, postpartum struggles are nothing compared to years of joy.  🙂  

When you hit the bottom of the well after your postpartum high runs out, just remember that women everywhere know exactly what you’re going through.  They made it, and so will you.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kendra
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 21:08:26

    Yes.

    Reply

  2. Danielle Benda
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 21:21:29

    This is amazing. I’m the the process of making my own peace with not only my birthing experience (which also didn’t go as I planned) but also the weeks following, including up to now (I’m 6 weeks PP). I was angry for awhile, because I had felt that with all my reading and all my conversations NO ONE ever told me about the details, as I like to call them. I was not prepared AT ALL (emotionally) for what I was in store for. You and I have a lot of the same thoughts and feelings, and to my surprise, birthing and PP experiences!! Thank you for sharing. Big hugs.

    Reply

    • travelnole
      Apr 15, 2013 @ 00:25:32

      Well, first of all, congratulations!! I’ll be checking back on your blog to find out more about your sweet baby. 🙂 Thank you so much for the comment- it means a lot when I know someone finds common ground with me. Six weeks- yes, I was still very much struggling at that time to deal with my feelings as well. And, besides that, those first few weeks can be such a difficult adjustment period to parenthood. I know they were for me. (And it definitely gets easier, slowly) If you plan to post your birth story (when you’re ready-take your time!), I very much look forward to reading it. Writing mine really really helped me to process what happened, and it’s always nice to find people with similar experiences and feelings as your own. I like to know I’m not alone. 🙂 Of course, I really am sorry that your birth didn’t go as you had hoped. I hope that parts of it at least were just right. 🙂

      Reply

  3. andi
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 04:01:24

    You know people don’t talk about these things as much but I think its starting to get out there. I know its just a Tv show but recently in an episode of how I met your mother lily confesses to Ted that even though she loves her new baby and her husband so much sometimes she feels so overwhelmed that she just wants to run away and never come back. Its a good sign when things like this make it into mainstream media because it becomes easier for people to talk about and be brave enough to admit to. Lyd I’m so glad I will have you to talk to when I go through this momentous experience for the first time and thank you for being brave enough to give the “details” as Danielle put it. I love you so much dear.

    Reply

    • travelnole
      Apr 29, 2013 @ 17:15:38

      Aw, thanks! I love you too! That actress on How I Met Your Mother had a natural birth in real life, fyi. 🙂 I can’t wait to be available to answer questions for you when it’s your turn! It’s a crazy life event, that’s for sure!

      Reply

    • travelnole
      Apr 29, 2013 @ 17:16:27

      Oh, and I had that exact same “run away and never come back feeling” more than once. 🙂

      Reply

  4. andi
    Apr 29, 2013 @ 04:07:29

    Oh and please feel free to post incomplete blogs if you like as well I just love hearing about my little “nephew” 🙂 I think you can always go back in and edit a post

    Reply

    • travelnole
      Apr 29, 2013 @ 17:17:41

      Lol, ok! I’ll try to finish the 4-month blog tonight since he’s actually 4 and a half months now….. Just need to get the appropriate pics off the camera.

      Reply

  5. Trackback: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Postpartum Hair Loss | Natural Birth and Parenting

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