Adding a baby to my family was the biggest event in my life (and I’ve bought an apartment in New York City, so I have lived through some sh*t). Yes, becoming a mom brought me more joy than I’ve ever felt it possible to experience, but it also ushered in a host of unexpected feelings, especially in those first few months immediately following my baby’s arrival. There are some painful things no one knows postpartum moms deal with, including pregnant women preparing to be moms themselves.
I certainly didn’t see these things coming, and I consider myself a pretty prepared person. I don’t “wing” anything. So I was really surprised at having to face, and overcome, a lot of unpleasant and downright painful obstacles postpartum and while also caring for a newborn. Obviously my experiences are unique to me. I had medicated, uncomplicated vaginal births with my two kids, and so I wasn’t having to recover from surgery, like moms who have had C-sections, or the often protracted, nerve-wracking period of time adoptive parents endure and carry into the early stages of welcoming their children. The painful things I experienced postpartum had as much to do with the physical aspects of childbirth as they did with the emotional baggage I was already carrying as a working mom who was questioning everything in light of this perfect little baby that was now my permanent roommate.
I didn’t talk much about dealing with this stuff, mostly because I thought doing so would show me as weak, and I was afraid of appearing that way to others. I wanted to give off an air of confidence and that there was no question my baby would be raised to be kind, intelligent, empathetic, and charming by parents who knew what they were doing. The problem? My partner and I had never done this before, so we definitely didn’t know what we were doing. We only knew that we loved our kid, and wanted her to feel loved. So I swallowed my fear and trepidation and anxiety and carried on. But I wouldn’t recommend this approach. I wish I was more open about the struggles I was having postpartum. Seeking comfort would not have made me appear weak, I realize now that I'm nine years postpartum. It would have shown that I was proactive about being the best version of myself so I could realize the hopes I had for my child.
Here are some of those painful things I dealt with postpartum, that I didn’t let anyone know about:
When You Can’t Figure Out Why The Baby Is Crying
My chest would seize whenever my newborn wailed. I’d try to feed her, or rock her, or “shush” her, and when none of those things worked my heart would tighten further. It’s the worst feeling in the world to know this tiny creature’s contentment is wholly in my hands and nothing I was doing seemed to be soothing her.
When No One Expects You To Cry, Too
When the baby cried and I couldn’t stop it, I cried too. I have always been sensitive, but able to manage my emotions quietly. Being a mom opened the floodgates so there was no holding back my own feelings when my baby was upset. Not many people understand that crying is not reserved for the infants in these first few confusing weeks of adjusting to motherhood.
When Self-Care Isn’t An Option
I expected to sport a very casual look after having given birth, but I never realized that I would push my own needs so far down the list of priorities that I would practically be ignoring them. I would almost feel guilty taking a shower, because I was losing time with my baby (a valid concern, as I watched my 12 weeks of maternity leave zoom by before returning to work).
When There Will Be Blood
I read all the new mom books, but I swear I don’t recall any of them remarking on how much blood will be seeping out of me in the weeks after giving birth. It was shocking, but apparently normal. It was also annoying, having to tend to changing my own diapers in addition to those of my newborn.
When You Experience Engorgement…
When my milk came in, it never seemed to stop coming. I didn’t have an oversupply issue with my first baby, as I did with my second, but the engorgement was significant. All of a sudden, my breasts had transformed into boulders and they were killing me.
… Which Makes Sleeping A Nightmare
I’m a stomach sleeper, so breast engorgement made it impossible to get comfortable in the bed. If it wasn’t the baby waking me up in the middle of the night, it was the sharp pain of engorgement rudely rousing me from a state of unconsciousness.
When You Feel Guilty For Sleeping
When I finally did drift off, albeit for a couple of hours at a time in between my newborn’s nursing sessions, it was with a huge pang of guilt. While my kid might not have needed me, or my milk, in those moments, I felt like I was neglecting everything else about my life: laundry, dishes, the mail. Although everyone would tell me to sleep when the baby sleeps, and to ask for help, I couldn’t hire someone to write the thank you notes for the baby gifts we received. In hindsight, I probably should have.
When Articulating What You Need Is Difficult
As a new mom, I had literally never done any of this before. I knew I needed help, even with my partner doing everything he was to care for the baby, too. I just didn’t know what kind of help I needed, exactly. And I certainly wasn’t used to asking for help. But it truly takes a village: friends, family, neighbors, paid sitters, and even the postal worker who started dropping off our mail at our apartment door so I didn’t have to shlep down six flights to get it.
When You Lose Any Sense Of Control
Type A moms like me might (OK, definitely) have control issues. It’s hard for us to adjust to life with children, which requires being a bit more forgiving about them messing up our best laid plans. I have learned to pad our schedules with plenty of time buffers, because things will go awry whenever we attempt to leave the house.
Even in those earliest days of my firstborn’s life, I had to constantly adjust my expectations about our time together. I might have thought I could accomplish a trip to the drugstore and the fruit market but when the baby wakes unexpectedly 20 minutes into a much-anticipated one hour nap, it’s just a matter of salvaging the remains of the day and living without apples for a little while longer.
When You're Struggling With Your Identity
While not physically painful, the emotional growing pains accompanying the onset of motherhood were significant for me. I didn’t have a baby until I was in my 30s, and by then I had established my career trajectory and had grown my social network to include what I considered to be smart, sensible, well-adjusted adults. And yet, here I was, stumped as to how to lower the side of a crib without jamming my fingers. Whatever sense of confidence I had worked so hard to build by then, especially as a woman in a male-dominated media industry, evaporated when I was postpartum. I felt like such a failure as a mom. I had to learn that no one thing defined me: not my career, or my marriage, or my children. But all of those pieces, together, gave me my sense of self. And every day, I get to know who I am a little bit better because of them.
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