To the uninitiated, "fourth trimester" sounds like a bad joke. On a cosmic level it sort of is. The concept springs from the idea that babies, in the first three months of their life outside the uterus, are still underdeveloped. They're in no way shape or form ready to be out in the world. They don't get all
that much more ready in the following few years, by the way, but those first few months they're basically outside-fetuses. And there are things I'm glad I didn't know about the fourth trimester because, honestly, it wouldn't have helped.
I'm usually a "
knowledge is power" kind of person. I like research. I like knowing things. I like always being prepared, or at least feeling like I'm always prepared. But parenthood has almost nothing to do with preparedness. Like, in some ways it might help you mentally, but by and large this is like nothing you've ever done before so you just kind of have to do it and see if it works.
If I had to describe parenthood, especially the first three months of parenthood, I'd have to say it's sort of like a prophecy in an
Ancient Greek myth: knowing is only going to make you try to fight against the inevitable outcome to ruinous results. But if you just sort of kick back and let it happen, your fate wash over you like a gentle wave on a beach (read: like a damn tsunami).
That "The Fourth Trimester" Is A Thing
I'd never heard this phrase until I was in the thick of it, reading a book about why my baby wouldn't sleep like a normal full-grown human and why he responded to completely weird stimulus, like running water or a vacuum. But, honestly, going in without that expectation was probably a good thing, because it allowed me to be completely hapless at first and then have some concept to make my experience make more sense in retrospect and moving forward.
Three Months Will Feel Like One Very Long Day
I seriously had entire weeks where I didn't know what day it was. Your sense of time is completely off because all your normal indicators of time and routine (when you sleep, when you eat, etc.) are shot to hell. When you're waking up every hour and a half or so in the night and watching the sunrise, sleeping before the sunset, and eating whenever the baby does (because
you're starving!), that makes sense, right?
Now if you had told me ahead of time that the fourth trimester was like one very long day that would have sounded ominous and scary. But, honestly, it's just the new normal and it's not in and of itself terrible. It's hard, but it's more a statement of fact than a warning.
There Would Always Be Fluids On Me
So. Many. Fluids. Sometimes you don't know what's what. There's nothing you can do about that, no way to prepare, and there's no reason to scare someone ahead of time. (And, like your warped sense of time, you get used to it.)
By My Usual Standards, I'd Accomplish Very Little
Whenever possible, I like to organize my existence into lists — things I've done, things I need to do, things I need to get, books I'd like to read, books I've read... that sort of thing. If I had to make a list of "Things I Accomplished" in the first trimester it would be really, really short. Painfully short for a
Hermione Granger-esque overachiever like me.
But, honestly, just staying afloat is
such an accomplishment. Eventually you internalize that idea (if you're like me it will take several pep talks from a loving partner) that you're just not going to "accomplish" anything substantial from a checklist perspective. That doesn't mean you're not kicking ass, though, because you are. This isn't something you should know ahead of time, though, because this is definitely one of those things you will fight against to no avail.
I'd Be Trapped Under A Baby For Three Months Straight
For better and for worse, I spent three solid months cuddling my newborn. It was lovely, but it was limiting. It was both a pleasant and cumbersome surprise, depending on my mood and whether or not I'd remembered to grab my book before rocking my baby to sleep because once he was down I wasn't moving.
My Boobs Would Be Out 24/7
OK, not every second of
every day, but that was mainly just to prevent severe leak issues. When I wasn't covering up to protect the furniture it was Boobfest 2011 (and then again in 2014) in my apartment. You'd think that would be a lot of fun, but it wasn't particularly sexy, due in no small part to the fact that my chubby-ass babies were constantly on said exposed boobs.
Half Of What I Worried About Was Silly
Seriously though, you really can't
tell a new mom ahead of time that her fears are silly. Because whether the individual fears are silly (I was legitimately worried that if I didn't start teaching my newborns how to talk right away they would never learn how), the fear itself is understandable, real, and nothing that should be condescended to. Again, it's something you just have to live through and then look back and laugh about.
I'd Do A Lot Of Things Wrong
You don't know what you don't know, and then you learn and do better. I look back at pictures of my son in his infant
car seat and because I was definitely not strapping him in properly. And, sure, I'd have liked to have known that my son wasn't secured correctly, but other things you just sort of learn how to do right by doing it wrong. I think there's value in having a few minor scares as a new parent, if only because it keeps you on your toes and prompts you to improve your techniques. cringe
How Long It Takes To Go Literally Anywhere
absolutely nothing you can do about the fact that you have approximately 742 items to pack for your teeny tiny newborn, 409 things to pack for yourself and your healing, leaking body, and oh yes, your mobility is hindered by the fact that you're still healing and you're hauling around an infant while packing and carrying all their stuff.
This I'll spoil for you, though, because I don't want anyone to live in false hope of ominous dread: it doesn't get all that much better until your kids are potty trained, at which point it's magical.
It Would Take The Entire Fourth Trimester To Feel 100 Percent Again
Honestly, my recovery was pretty great. I'd say I felt about 75 percent three weeks after birth and 90 percent within six weeks, the traditional "
recovery time" we often talk about here in America. But the fact that I didn't feel completely better six weeks postpartum when I expected to (because this is a lie perpetuated by male doctors and employers) made me nervous. And for me, that was a good thing.
Because thinking something might be "wrong" encouraged me to slow down and move about the world cautiously which, I'm certain, aided my recovery. If I weren't a little bit worried I doubt I would have been as cautious.