When I was pregnant I wrote a post called "10 Things I Didn't Expect about Expecting" so I thought I would follow it up with "10 Things I Didn't Expect Postpartum." I have found that most people don't really talk too much about the postpartum period (nor about many of the details of pregnancy). My hope is to provide an open and honest account of my experience in order to create room for that dialogue.
- Breastfeeding is hard.
- Recovery hurts.
- The sleep deprivation is worse than you think.
- It adds stress to your relationships.
- The hormones are real and intense.
- The amount of bleeding.
- The way your body changes.
- Strangers are generally more respectful than you'd think.
- A newborn completely occupies your time and world.
- The amount of love you feel for someone you just met.
Number One. Breastfeeding is something I always knew I would do. It wasn't a question. I just assumed that breastfeeding would come naturally. Both my baby and I would know what to do. I was wrong. Breastfeeding is hard. I see why so many people choose not to do it. It is time consuming, it hurts, and not all babies and mommies can figure out the right latch.
Henry loves to breastfeed. He loves being near me and in my arms. I love having him near me, skin to skin, but we also struggle. My nipples hurt. Both of them have been damaged at different times since his birth. I have to use a nipple shield in order for Henry to be able to latch. He constantly wants to breastfeed because it provides him comfort as well as food. One night he fed for 3 hours straight (2-5am)--sleeping and then sucking every so often. I hope one day he will be able to feed without the shield. Having to use it makes breastfeeding more challenging because I have to get it, clean it, and attach it each time he wants to feed. I won't give up, but I never realized how challenging breastfeeding can be.
Number Two. Recovery hurts. I still have trouble walking. My abdomen hurts, it feels like a pulled muscle in my belly, and I can tell my ab strength is much weaker when I try to do things like sitting up from laying down (especially when I'm holding Henry). My vagina hurts. I tore and got stitched up so I'm assuming some of the pain is from that and some of it is just because I birthed a baby. I have hemorrhoids and pooping is challenging and sometimes painful. My back and tailbone hurt. My bathroom looks like a medicine cabinet with sprays and pads and creams and wipes and water bowls all over the place.
Number Three. Everyone tells you that you will be sleep deprived. I don't think I ever really understood how bad it would be. I'm trying to learn to sleep during the day, sleep in the late evening, sleep in the late morning, basically sleep when I don't normally sleep because I need it. Like I've said before, Henry loves me and wants to be in my arms/breastfeeding constantly. It makes sleeping challenging. I've never felt so out of it. All our days run together. Sometimes when I'm up with him in the middle of the night, I have to turn on the TV to make myself feel more awake. Both Derek and I also aren't fully asleep when we are asleep. Derek wakes up sleep talking and worrying about Henry and me, and I often think I'm breastfeeding and panic when I can't find Henry's head under my blankets.
Number Four. Derek and I are having to navigate our relationship with Henry. Everything is different. Our normal routine is different, we're sleep deprived, Henry demands a lot of attention and care. It can be stressful. It's easy to get short with each other. It takes open communication, compassion, understanding, and patience. We must remember how much we love each other, realize that this stage will pass, and work together as a team.
Number Five. In addition to being sleep deprived, hormones make life much more difficult. Sometimes I cry because I'm happy, sometimes I cry because I'm overwhelmed. At first my emotions were mostly joy related. I'd look at my son and start crying as I told him how much I loved him. One night Derek walked into the bedroom to find me crying as I held Henry, overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for my baby. Lately, they've led toward more irritability and frustration. I get annoyed with others, even Henry. Even without diagnosable postpartum depression, hormones can lead you to feel out of control, and it's important to recognize them.
Number Six. I wore Depends for two weeks straight. One night my bleeding was so bad that we were scared something was wrong. After that night is started to decline and now I just use a pad. Good thing I wore those Depends, though, because I did wet myself twice.
Number Seven. I was shocked at how quickly I hit my pre-pregnancy weight (I was there by two weeks postpartum). I expected to be larger for far longer than I was. I was amazed by how quickly my body shrunk (even though breastfeeding has given me a much larger appetite than pregnancy ever did). My belly is still soft, however. It feels different when I touch it than it ever has. I look skinny, but my belly feels a little jello-y to the touch. It doesn't feel like fat, it just feels soft and a tad mushy. Also, my boobs are very different. They get large and painful when they are full, but then get visibly smaller after feeding or pumping. Lastly, my ankles looked so small to me once the swelling went down. They still look tiny to me.
Number Eight. I was so worried that people would try to grab and touch Henry. I am still very vigilant when we are out, but I have found that most people are generally respectful. When they start getting close, I position myself in a way that communicates "stay back" and tell them that he is still fresh and needs space. Also, we keep our car seat cover over him whenever he is in his stroller/car seat and that seems to keep people back.
Number Nine. You'd think you'd have tons of time when caring for someone who sleeps most of the day. You'd be wrong. I don't know where my time goes. Somewhere between feeding and changing and getting him ready to sleep and ready to wake and pumping and managing my own body (not including showering, which I can't tell you the last time I showered. I also am rarely dressed) time flies and I barely get anything done. There is still work I need to do to wrap up everything with the studio, but I can't find time to do it. Part of it has to do with my exhaustion. I feel like my brain moves slower than normal, but I can't tell you how much your life no longer feels like yours.
Number Ten. Both Derek and I love Henry very much. We both loved him the second we saw him. I was actually surprised by how quickly Derek fell in love with him and how cute he immediately thought Henry was. I think my first words once Henry was out and I had seen and held him was "I love him." Like I said earlier, I often found myself in tears, overcome with love for my son. We may not have known him for long, but he has completely captured our hearts (even when he is a pain). It's a love that transcends reason. We love him simply because he exists.