Even when I was pregnant for the first time, I very much looked forward to getting my body back. I don’t just mean the original shape of it (though, that was a small part of it, I can admit), I mean that feeling of complete ownership and autonomy that comes with, you know, not allowing another person to live inside of you. Still, it wasn’t as simple as I thought it would be, and there are a number of things I wish I’d known about recovering from childbirth.
Perhaps I’m a little more reflective and consumed with thoughts of postpartum recovery because I’m getting ready to do it all over again with the birth of my second child, whose due date is just around the corner. Even though I know what to expect this time (well, sort of, because all pregnancies and babies and births are different so my second labor and delivery could be an entirely new experience), I still can’t help but hope that maybe it will be a simple and smooth process.
I can't claim to know what any other mother's postpartum recovery process looks like, but for me it wasn't what I would describe as "easy." Instead, it was complicated and challenging and frustrating. At least this time, I’ll know what to do with that spray bottle. In the meantime, I’m expecting (pun intended) the unexpected and focusing on what I learned the first time around, including:
Recovery Happens On Its Own Schedule
Prior to giving heard, I heard that six weeks was the magical period of time when I’d be all healed from delivery. Yeah, no. Perhaps this is true for other moms, and they feel back to "normal" after six weeks, but it was not the case for me. I imagine I’m not the only one who found myself deviating from the standard “rule.”
It Won’t Be What I Expect It To Be
One of the gifts I received during pregnancy was this lovely set of pajamas, with peach pants and a matching nursing camisole for a top. I imagined myself spending months at home with my baby in those pajamas, feeling cute and calmly nursing him in them.
Surprise! My fantasy looked nothing like my reality. My body didn’t even fit those clothes for months, and feeling cute was just not a thing. To be clear, I don’t mean to equate losing pregnancy weight with recovering, I mean it to show how off-base I was with what I thought those postpartum months would actually be like.
It’s Not Exactly Easy
I assumed that recovering from sharing my body with another person would be easier than, you know, actually sharing my body with another person. This wasn't always the case, to be honest, and sometimes postpartum life was infinitely harder than pregnancy life (depending on the day).
Like my favorite Facebook status that I wish I had more excuses to use: “It’s complicated."
There’s No Rest For The Weary
Just when I thought I’d discovered the brink of what my body could endure, I’d go another night without sleep and my aches and problems were magnified (I'd find a new source of discomfort in general). It’s like realizing your favorite artists has released a surprise track, then finding out the track is terrible and painful and you hate it.
The Products Are Surprising...
Oh, the aforementioned spray bottle. The ointments. The creams. The numbing sprays. The donut pillow I carried around the house (or, desperately asked my partner to bring me from the other room). It’s like Christmas, but for products you didn’t realize our generation already uses.
I mean, I joke about these products, but in the same breath I have to admit that I don’t know what I would have done without them. Much like my breast pump, my nursing pillow, and my Netflix subscription, I formed a serious attachment to most of the products that help me survive postpartum life and heal from labor and delivery.
However, I was definitely still excited to see them go (except the Netflix subscription, obviously).
My Body Might Not Ever Feel The Same Again...
Even after healing, I could tell that something had happened and something had changed with my body. That said, once I was fully recovered, being reminded that I birthed my son has actually been a pleasant thing. Still, it’s something I didn’t expect.
...But, Eventually, It Will Feel Like Mine
It probably didn’t help that during those early postpartum months, I was also trying to figure out breastfeeding. Managing an entirely new body function while healing can complicate things a little.
The good news, though? Despite the changes and the unfamiliarity I experienced, I did feel finally ownership over my body again.
I’ll Need A Lot Of Help
It was one of the hospital nurses who first stepped in and helped me use the bathroom which, thankfully, I mastered before we went home. Then, it was my partner who helped me on and off the couch, and who took care of the baby when I took long baths to soothe my aches (to be fair, he took care of the baby at other times, too). Then, it was my mom, who visited and made countless meals for my new family of three so I could relax just a little bit extra each day.
It’s not that I didn’t know it was common to accept help after a baby’s born, because I know that it is. It’s that I didn’t realize how much of it would feel like it was for me and my own healing, as much as it was in support of the adjustment my whole family was making.
I Need To Be Kind To Myself
By “kind,” I mean, “just as forgiving as I would be to someone else who’s just gone a majorly physical, life-checking experience,” which is actually a lot easier said than done. But really, it can be frustrating to not be able to do everything it is you want to do, as quickly as you’d like to do it. So having a reminder to go easy on yourself (all right, on myself) is helpful.
I Can Trust My Body
OK, technically I think I learned this one through the pregnancy, labor, and delivery parts of the process, but I wish I’d grown more confident in this knowledge before birth, or even before pregnancy. Of course, complications can happen, but when it came to recovering from my first childbirth experience, I would have been a little more relaxed about the process if I’d recognized going into it that my body, in a way, knew what to do.