Something happens in our collective consciousness when we think about a postpartum mother at 12 weeks. There's an expectation that, by that point, she "return to normal." After all, this is when most maternity leaves end, and mothers are supposed to be ready to go back to business as usual. Because of this line in the sand, mothers put a lot of expectations on themselves when it comes to thing they should have accomplished by that time. Personally, I had a lot of things I thought I had to do by 12 weeks postpartum on my list, many of which I wasn't even close to attaining.
I didn't feel any sense of "normal" by 12 weeks postpartum. For one, there was nothing normal about the enormous c-section scar underneath my abdomen, that throbbed intermittently throughout the day and was itchy at night. There was nothing normal about how often I cried every day, and how I knew I should feel really grateful for the gift of being a mother, but that something was terribly wrong with me because I wasn't. There was nothing magical about this 12 week number, in that I still wasn't quite ready to go out into the world with my baby confidently, as I saw other new moms doing. I often enlisted a friend to walk with me, because I was so afraid that my baby would explode in a rage of tears or screams and I would be alone on some street corner or in a coffee shop, paralyzed and unsure as to what in the hell I do.
Fortunately, I did not feel an enormous sense of pressure to act normal or have my act together by 12 weeks, but the thoughts of, "Um, I think I'm kind of doing this wrong?" were certainly there. Here are a few things I was aware of that I should have had under control at the time, but definitely was nowhere near being able to do:
Act Nonchalant About Having A Baby
I had seen all these moms on the streets of Brooklyn and on the popular mom blogs at the time (this was before Instagram, I know and can you imagine?) and it seemed like everyone had been able to have a baby and remain relatively unchanged on the outside.
There, at the little French bistro having brunch to my left was a mom casually sipping a mimosa while her baby napped in her lap. And there, to my right, lazily perusing the racks at a vintage clothing store with a baby in a sling was another mom who looked like the lead singer from an obscure band I had no business knowing about. How did all these moms manage to have babies and then immediately seem to go about their lives like it was no big deal? And yet, I couldn't leave the house with my 3 month old without suffering through under-boob sweat or an explosive poop getting on the carrier?
Rock My Pre-Baby Skinny Jeans
A mom friend of mine had told me that by 12 weeks postpartum, I should be able to fit into my pre-baby skinny jeans. I forgot to fact check and remind myself that she was like, the size of a wood nymph before, during, and after her pregnancy. While technically, yes, I was able to put on my skinny jeans, sitting down in them and wearing them comfortably without the resulting muffin top was a whole other story.
Seriously Enjoy A Night Out
There had been grand plans about big nights out once I had had my baby and was allowed to enter "the land of the living" again, of course, all discussed prior to actually experiencing what having a newborn was like. You know what sounds wholly unappealing when you're three months into "mom life" and your baby still is up, like, three times a night? Staying up late and drinking to the point that you'll surely wake up with a hangover. Yeah, no thanks. I'll just Netflix and chill for the next year or so until I catch up on my rest. Raincheck, though?
Pretend That I'm Loving Every Second Of My New Life
The question I hated the most after having my first baby was, "You must be loving life right now." Because even at 12 weeks postpartum, when things were slightly more under control than they were in the immediate newborn I-want-to-kill-myself stage, it still wasn't a picnic. I did not take to motherhood easily, like many moms I know did at the time. There were no happy Facebook posts from me with hashtags like "love him!" and "my heart is full," because I was deep in a postpartum depression and thought my baby was plotting to kill me in my sleep. For real. It would have taken a lot of strength to pretend that everything was OK, so for the most part, I didn't even try. The unfiltered truth was hard for people to hear.
For example, the dry cleaner in my building was probably not prepared when I broke down in convulsive tears after she asked me how I was enjoying my new motherhood. But I lived my truth at the time, and I'm glad I didn't try to sugarcoat it because it would have made things that much harder.
Be Ready To Use My Brain Again
With the exception of some heartfelt and therapeutic blog posts, I was absolutely not ready to use my brain. I was amazingly lucky to not have to go back to a traditional job at the time, and to be able to choose when I was ready to pick up freelance work. I was also lucky that right before my baby was born, I had had some prolific times and had published a few children's books and turned in several freelance projects so I was able to work a little bit on edits for those, which made me feel somewhat useful to society. But if someone had asked me to go back to my old office job and run meetings and manage staff, I would have hid under a desk. I am in awe of my friends who do this on so little sleep and with such raw emotions and hormonal craziness, at just 12 weeks postpartum.
Have My Baby On A Sensible Sleep Schedule
A big "Yeah, you're hilarious" to this one. I hated anyone who told me that their baby was sleeping through the night by 12 weeks and couldn't even look at friends of mine whose babies "naturally" just started sleeping long stretches earlier than that. When it came to sleep, my child was one of the worst of anyone I knew and for someone to suggest that by 12 weeks something was supposed to magically change made me want to punch a wall.
Have Amassed An Enviable and Extensive Crew Of Mama Friends
By 12 weeks postpartum I had begun to accrue some friends, but things were still very new feeling, like the first weeks of meeting people at a new school. I wasn't sure yet where I stood in this brand new group of Brooklyn moms. Was I a complete outcast because my baby was the one who cried through every single mom group meet-up while the other babies remained pleasant or asleep so their moms could enjoy their beer and wine? Did I laugh to loudly at other people's jokes? I hated that new motherhood also meant having to make completely new friends, because, seriously, could we make things more difficult than they already are?
Figured Out How To Wear A Moby Wrap
No matter how many YouTube videos, I just couldn't crack this one.
Feel Comfortable Leaving The House With Just My Carrier And A Diaper Bag
You know those moms who could just throw a cloth diaper and a wooden toy into their hemp satchel, and place their baby in a gorgeous handmade carrier sewn by an eco-conscious group of feminists living in a jungle commune and be on their way? Yeah. That was not me.
I was the mom at 12 weeks postpartum who would leave the house with no less than my enormous stroller, an extra blanket, my pump bag, a makeshift changing station (because public ones? Ew), every baby toy, books, and extra changes of clothes for me and the baby because you never know.
Be Relatively At Peace With My Postpartum Body
I lost baby weight relatively fast thanks to having to nurse a million times a day (my baby was a snacker) and also obsessively pumping (I didn't know how much was too much so I overdid it) but nothing looked like it should have, in my mind. My c-section scar still looked like it could spook small children and everything about me just felt loose and lumpy. The media was telling me I should be "embracing" this body for all it had given me, and for the baby it provided me, but I wasn't buying it at the time. Things were still too raw, and I was nowhere near being at peace with any of the changes that had happened to me, at just 12 weeks after baby.
Feel Totally In Love With My Baby
I really liked my baby and sometimes I felt mad love for him, but was I totally in love? No. We had a very complicated relationship, made even more so by postpartum depression. I knew I was supposed to feel all sorts of lovey feels for him as his mother, but my heart wasn't quite there yet, because my brain was kind of broken at the time.
Not Be Caught By Surprise By The Dreaded Leaky Boob
By 12 weeks I had hoped to have my own bodily functions under some semblance of control. I hadn't been caught out there with a bloody maxi pad in some weeks, so that was a win (hooray). But the leaky boob? That was another story.
My boobs were all over the place because of my excessive pumping and my snack-obsessed baby, so I never knew when they were going to all of a sudden start dripping all over my blouse or spurting across the living room. The worst was when I would let it go too long and we would be away from home and I would start nursing. I would peel down my bra cup so my baby could latch, and of course we would be in public somewhere, and my breast would just start spraying across the table. What a way to start a meal, right?