I talk a lot about childbirth and body positivity and how it can be hard to reclaim yourself once you've delved into motherhood, but in looking back, it seems I haven't really touched upon things your post-baby body wants you to know. I mean, there's a lot the ol' meatbag is trying to tell you, especially in the immediate aftermath of "the big event," that you should pay attention to.
The postpartum period is among the weirdest milestones you will live through. It flies by and it lasts for forever. It's awesome and it's horrible. You feel content and you feel tremendously ill-at-ease. You feel better than you thought you would, but still feel... off. (Or you feel way worse than you thought you'd feel, and feel off.) While there are lots of common experiences, everyone's childbirth recovery is unique, too. After all, how could the exact combination of physical, mental, and emotional experience ever be duplicated exactly between two people? (That's another thing we don't talk too much about: the fact that recovery from childbirth is all those things, not just a physical process.)
Still, there are some things about this time that your body wants you to know; things that often stand in sharp contrast with what society seems to expect of you. (Ah yes, society, my old nemesis. We meet again.) Here are just a few to start:
You Just Had A Damn Baby
Sit with that just for a minute. A human came out of you. A human you grew from scratch. That's absolutely mind-boggling, miraculous, and awe-inspiring. So before any of the rest of this can really sink in, I think it's important to reflect upon the enormity of your accomplishment here, physically, mentally, and spiritually. This is a very big deal, and yet because we necessarily have to hit the ground running after delivery, we do not always get to give this huge event its due.
So allow me: go you, you badass. Way to birth a human.
You Need To Rest
You hear a lot about rest and healing before you have the baby. And maybe at that point you're like, "Yes, of course. I'll do that. That makes sense." But here's what "they" don't tell you: most of the things you had to do before you had a baby will have to be done after you had a baby, to say nothing of the actual care of your new and demanding infant. It's very easy, therefore, to forgo rest and recovery and just assume that it will eventually sort itself out. But you're really putting yourself at a disadvantage here, because this will slow and prolong your recovery.
Lots of moms I talk to (including the one in the mirror, sometimes) feel guilty about "just sitting there," which is absurd because you shouldn't feel guilty about something that will help you feel better. But if you must somehow justify resting, think about it this way: healing and feeling better will make you a more effective, on-point mom. Resting is a proactive activity that can help you do that.
It's Going to Be A While Before Everything Finds Its New Groove
What do I mean by "everything"? I mean it's going to take some time for your hormones to find a happy norm, for your boobs to settle in (especially if you're breastfeeding), for your C-section scar to stop swelling/itching/hurting or for your vagina to... let's just call it "settle down." Of course it's also going to take time for you to find your motherhood groove, too, because this parenting thing is no damn joke.
This is OK. Moreover, this is what's to be expected.
You Should Ask For Help
One more time, for the people in the back: asking for help is not a sign of weakness, or a sign that you're inept, or that you're not a good mom, or that you're a wimp, or any other negative thing that you're thinking. Asking for help is acknowledging that it's really, really hard to care for a baby and you could use a hand.
Honestly, do you think humanity got as far as it did through scrappy individualism? No! We're social creatures! We care about community and we help each other. On the whole (and especially historically) new mothers are helped by extended family and other women in their community. I don't want to be cliché and say "it takes a village," but it really does take a village.
If You're Breastfeeding, Be Patient & Kind To Yourself
Because it takes a while to figure it out, not only for you but for your baby. Neither of you knows WTF you're doing and while you have a lot of good evolutionary adaptations to make this successful, it's still a process. Yes, breastfeeding is "natural," but nature can be sort of a jerk. "Natural" is not necessarily a good thing, and it's certainly not synonymous with "easy."
So if it doesn't all happen right away (or even for several weeks or months) don't take it as a personal failure: getting it right away is the anomaly. This will take practice and effort to perfect.
You Can Keep Calling Your Care Provider
Your OB-GYN or midwife doesn't stop caring for you once you pass your placenta. Both of my care providers (OB-GYN for the first birth, midwife for the second) made it clear that if something was amiss or a point of concern, they wanted to hear about it ASAP, up to a year after delivery. "Anything within that first year can be considered a pregnancy/postpartum issue," my midwife informed me. "So don't be a stranger."
You won't annoy them. You aren't overstepping your bounds. At the very least, after dozens of appointments over the course of nine months, your maternity care provider is intimately familiar with your medical history and might be able to provide some insight.
This Process Will Take About A Year
It's true! New research indicates that it takes a woman about a year to recover from childbirth. That's not to say you're going to need to stay in bed with your feet up and a pillow behind your back for a year. For the most part you're probably going to feel pretty OK within a few weeks, and more and more OK as time goes on. But the idea that recovery is over and done with within a matter of weeks is absolutely absurd and puts an unrealistic expectation on new moms.
It's OK If Your House Is A Mess
If it's a question of you taking time to sit back and relax so you can heal and sweeping the floor, let the floor stay dirty. Let that pile of laundry sit in the basket a bit longer. The dishes can stay on the drying rack and won't hurt anyone.
There's a lot to do. Sometimes there's too much to do, and in those cases it's OK when you physically cannot do it all.
Things Will Take Longer Now
I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this but between your recovering body and your little anchor/baby, your pace is about to change. Things that used to take you three minutes will now take 15. You aren't going to be able to tick off as many items on your "To Do" list as you once were (at least not for a while). Your sense of accomplishment and time will, as a result of your postpartum reality, will necessarily change.
Again, this is all completely normal: try not to get discouraged. (Though, admittedly, it's frustrating not to just be able to get up and go in the way you're accustomed.)
You May Have To Relearn Sex
Some will tell you that your vagina will go right back to normal given enough time... and that's mostly right, but it's also not exactly right. Dude: you had a baby. Things shifted down there (yes, whether or not you gave birth vaginally). Positions that may once have been comfortable might suck now... or vice versa! In the immediate postpartum period, when your hormone levels are still finding their aforementioned groove, you might find you need lube when you haven't in the past.
My point is, your body has changed and it might take you and your partner(s) some experimentation to figure out how best to work with this new version of yourself. The good news, though? Sexy experiments can be really, really fun. Get creative, take it slow, and, as in all things, be kind and patient with yourself.
You Will Likely Shed Like A Cat
Some of you may have heard this, but no one ever told me: postpartum hair loss is absolutely a thing. You don't have to freak out about it, and it probably won't cause any major disruption, but just be aware that you will find your hair all over everything.
Oh, and stock up on drain cleaner. Trust me.
Pain Shouldn't Get Worse
That's not to say that pain is abnormal in the postpartum period. Unfortunately it's very normal, and you may even experience pain longer than you'd anticipated. But here's the thing: the pain should not increase as time goes on. It especially shouldn't get better and then get worse. Worsening pain can often be indicative of a problem, such as an infection. Don't fool around with this observation, and don't just assume you're being weak or hysterical. Instead, call your care provider and let them know what's going on so they can tell you exactly what's going on.
Your Needs Are Important
Obviously your baby is your number one priority now (and, like, for the rest of forever, pretty much), but that's not to say you aren't also worthy of time, care, and effort. Your need to heal, rest, and process is crucial during this period. Moving forward, you'll continue to need times to recharge and find your focus. Ensuring that you have a life, thoughts, and priorities of your own outside of your relationship with your child does not take away from your relationship with your child, nor from the depth of your commitment to them.
This Isn't Forever
Maybe there are going to be some things about your body and your life that are changed forever after birth, but, for the most part, things will pretty much go back to normal. The the worst of the postpartum experience will be over and done with in a few months (the rest of your recovery within that first year after birth will mostly be mental). It may seem like forever but, I promise, it's not.
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