The first time I got pregnant, I thought I knew how everything would go. I read books and articles, joined mommy groups, and took classes. I had a very specific birth plan, which eventually went out the window. From the moment I left the hospital it seems like few things have gone as planned, actually. A lot of my expectations were due to things people told me, which was totally unfair because there's no universal experience of pregnancy, childbirth, recovery, or parenthood So, honestly, there are things people need to stop saying about recovering from childbirth.
Like, saying how "easy" it is. Maybe it was because I hung with a pretty crunchy crowd, but my friends constantly romanticized childbirth and the newborn days as something natural, beautiful, and magical. While this might seem like a nice thing to say, and I even thought so in the moment, when I actually had my daughter and was in pain and overwhelmed with fear and things weren't magical at all, I started to think that there was something wrong with me. Between breastfeeding challenges, physical recovery, postpartum depression, having to go back to work way too soon, and body image issues, recovery was anything but easy.
Plus, my childbirth recovery was different with each subsequent pregnancy. After my daughter was born, I did a lot of crying and binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Top Chef. After my son was born, I started and completed P90X while on maternity leave. This time, at eight weeks postpartum, I am not ready to work out yet, and that's OK.
I wish people would stop creating unfair and unrealistic expectations for new moms. It seriously creates this cycle of feeling weird, bad, and even like a failure when things don't go as planned. Also, it perpetuates a culture of competition around recovery, which is so messed up. Parenthood is a long journey so you're gonna need your strength, and that means taking the time you need to recover in a way that's right for you and your body.
"You Will Recover In Six Weeks"
Just because my doctor's note says that I can return to work in six weeks (or eight weeks after a c-section), doesn't mean I will be fully recovered from growing a human in my body, or bringing that human into the world, in six to eight weeks. The same goes for for the 12 weeks covered by FMLA. In fact, one study showed that it really takes about a year to recover, which is one reason why parental leave policies seriously fall short.
"My Recovery Was So Easy"
Good for you, but that might not be another person's experience. Repeat after me: motherhood is not a competition that you win simply because your body heals fast. That's actually pretty ableist, if you think about it.
"My Recovery Was So Terrible"
It's not very nice to tell horror stories to pregnant people. Full stop. Like most things in life, pain is relative, bodies are different, and your mileage may vary. Discussions about how recovery is likely to go for an individual are best kept for shortly before or after delivery and had with your doctor, partner, and other people who might be available to help. The last thing a pregnant person needs is something else to worry about.
"Enjoy Your Time At The Hospital"
The first time, I hated being in the hospital so much. Between grabby lactation nurses literally touching my breasts without permission, a hospital bed that didn't lower enough for me to get in and out of bed comfortably without my stitches feeling like they were ripping, and interruptions every 15 minutes all night long, I wanted to leave as soon as humanly possible. Different people have different needs for medical care, advice, assistance, and human contact after birth.
"Did You Know You Can Start Working Out Six Weeks Postpartum?"
My Facebook memories just reminded me that I ran 18 miles this time last year. However, the last thing I should be doing right now is running a single mile, let alone 18, but I still feel so guilty about not working out.
Bottom line: this is something to discuss with your obstetrics provider and no one else. Also, listen to that amazing body of yours. If it hurts, don't feel pressured to continue. You just grew a human. You are badass.
"Just Stay In Bed And Breastfeed All Day"
Not only did this advice contribute to my postpartum depression and anxiety when breastfeeding didn't work out, it's totally not feasible for many parents. Check your privilege, please.
"Women Used To Have Babies And Go Back To Work The Same Day"
Yes, and many women also used to die young and had no rights. The "good old days" were not good for women, so re-creating them shouldn't be a goal.
"I Lost All My Baby Weight Right Away"
Why are we so obsessed with other people's bodies? It's gross. Plus, there are so many factors involved with how much weight you gain during pregnancy and if and when and how much work it takes to lose it. Bragging about how easy it was for you sets unfair expectations for other moms and is not nice. So don't do it.
"You Should 'Bounce Back' Quickly"
Did you really just make an assessment about my body to my face? People really don't have boundaries with pregnant women and new moms. It's like we give up our right to privacy when we become mothers.
"You Should Stay At Home And Relax"
Which is nice, until you've stared at the same four walls for weeks and start to feel like a prisoner. It's not relaxing at all. My extrovert side needs other people, even if it's just the clerk at the grocery store.
"You Need To Get Out And Get Moving"
But, um, what if it hurts or I try and end up setting back my recovery even longer. It's my body. Mind your own business.
In our culture moms are simultaneously expected to suffer and enjoy every minute of that suffering. It's really an odd dichotomy. When everyone is telling you how much you should love the newborn days, and you instead have pain, anxiety, and postpartum depression, you start feeling like you are already a failure.
Cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself to feel however you feel. It's OK to have your own unique experiences and to let yourself recover how you need to.
Everyone else: please stop talking about recovery from childbirth, unless it's to ask, "How can I help?"