As many of you may have gathered, my pregnancy and our birth both progressed seamlessly. I had no complications whatsoever. With the lack of complications, I approached the thought of my postpartum life nonchalantly. I told myself that worrying about the weeks after delivering Lois would be counterproductive because our baby could have any temperament under the sun and I couldn’t prepare for her needs without her actually being with us. I told myself to take it day-by-day which is an attitude I normally do not have in my day-to-day life but as it regarded our daughter, I didn’t want to needlessly stress.
This is a thought process I now regret.
I made the mistake that many moms tend to make throughout their journey of motherhood; I focused entirely on the needs of my little one and my partner without considering myself or my own emotional/physical needs.
In the weeks leading up to the arrival of Lois, I envisioned protecting my partner’s sleep cycle, I planned how I’d react to Lois crying extensively (thankfully, she never has) and I coached myself through the thought of her experiencing any complications from her birth. I envisioned what I’d do if she was sick and how I’d approach nighttime feedings. I planned how I’d tackle laundry during maternity leave and how I’d keep the house. Not once – not a single time – did I sit down and ask myself, “what will you do, if you don’t feel 100%? How will you take care of yourself?” I had reserved myself to the fact that I would feel 100%. I had never given thought to anything else.
The same night I gave birth to Lois, I watched my body in the mirror of our hospital room bathroom. I stood there in that infamous mesh underwear, my legs wobbly, my skin covered in stretch marks so deep, tired to my bones. I think I had been awake for 28 hours then (minus my 30 minute nap) and I wasn’t thinking straight.
But guess what? I felt good. I wasn’t in pain. I was just ready to leap into motherhood. This thought process continued while I was in the hospital.
What I did not realize – and what I wish I had paid attention to then – is that when you’re in the hospital, things are really busy. Nurses check on you constantly, food gets delivered to your room, guests are walking in and out of your room to greet your baby, tests are being run, your phone is lighting up with congratulatory texts and if you have happen to any questions about anything, your nurse is on speed dial.
All of this offered me a lot of security, something I did not realize until that security was removed.
The night we returned home with Lois, reality hit me smack dab in the face. My milk had yet to come in and I wasn’t nursing. When we put her car seat down, she woke up and I realized I could no longer feed her using the SNS system. I had no breastmilk to give her so I had to use the pre-made formula bottles that the hospital gave us. I cried for the first time that night. I felt so bad giving her that formula and I just started pumping like a maniac. My milk soon came in but as Lois wouldn’t latch, I gave it to her by bottle. This was something that really messed with me.
Never once had I pictured myself formula feeding or bottle feeding our baby. I cried so much over that.
In fact, I cried over everything. I was petrified. I actually asked myself if I had made a mistake thinking I was ready to be a mom. I thought I didn’t know how to take care of her. I felt like I had no clue about anything. I was certain I was headed for Postpartum Depression.
I cried in the morning, I cried at night. I felt completely exposed. I also felt like a fraud. Here I had been so happy during my pregnancy and now my baby was here and I was questioning my own capabilities.
Looking back on it, hormones played a huge part in why I went through this. I don’t think women talk about the hormonal shifts after birth enough. I know it was hormonal because about 5 days after returning home, I woke up and felt completely different.
The sun was shining that morning and suddenly, I felt confident and so in love with our daughter. I felt silly for ever having questioned myself. It was like I just “snapped” out of it.
I looked at her and felt so ridiculous for ever having questioned myself or our ability to grow together. I’ve cried twice since that day.
All of this happened 20+ days ago. It literally feels like it all happened in a different lifetime.
No one tells you that after birth, you may not feel this deep love for your child immediately. No one tells you that your uterus continues to contract for days, especially when you breastfeed or pump and that it is actually incredibly painful. No one tells you what lochia is and how it’s not very pleasant at all. No one tells you that your baby may not latch and that breastfeeding can be incredibly complicated. No one tells you about the deafening silence you’ll experience during nighttime feedings when it’s just you and your baby. No one tells you how lonely that silence can feel. No one tells you about the fear or self doubt, how your own childhood will run on your mind on loop. How some of your deepest insecurities can creep to the surface and become really loud. No one tells you how differently you’ll look at the father of your child in the beginning, how suddenly you’ll feel like you rely on him so much more, even though he physically can’t do very much in the beginning. He can hold your child and change their diaper and he can comfort you but your baby will be on you, she literally physically needs you for survival. It’s just different when they’re so little. So I am here to tell you about all of the above.
I can confidently say that if I did not have a good support network, I would have faced a much harder time than I did.
I had loved ones who showed me how to change a diaper. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law brought us food and showed us continued encouragement. My mother picked up the phone and assured me I was doing okay. My sister stopped by our house to check on us. My friends encouraged me. And my employer and colleagues took the time to wish us well. I had an entire network of people who kept my feet on the ground. I have 12 weeks of maternity leave to get situated.
So many women don’t have that. And yes, the thought of that has actually made me cry too.
This is the most sensitive time in my life. I remember everything from this past month; from scents to what people have told me, to how I’ve felt. This is such a vivid experience for me. And I can’t imagine going through this without support and encouragement. The thought alone scares me.
My biggest piece of advice for the “aftermath” of birth involves self-care. Talk to yourself. Prepare yourself for the emotions, the vividness of it all. Be kind to yourself. Worry about yourself. Pick up the phone when you don’t feel good. Go outside, feel the fresh air, take a break. Give yourself a break. Prepare for life after pregnancy, give it some thought.
I did not go down this rabbit hole to the extent that Lois’ care was negatively impacted. I was still present with her, we still thrived together. Just not as much as we are now and I think that could’ve been avoided had I prepared myself better. I hope by reading this, some of you will feel more prepared, more understood and/or less afraid.
I’m so thrilled and thankful to be a mother and our journey has just begun. Thank you for being a part of it.