To say there are "postpartum stages" is a little misleading. "Stages," I feel, indicates some sort of set process in which one "stage" follows the next. But nothing about the postpartum period or, indeed, parenthood in general, is that straightforward. And yet there are weird postpartum stages every mom goes through that you should know about beforehand, because it's always best to be prepared.
Every mom is going to handle this period differently. Maybe you'll skip a stage all together, maybe you'll experience it but only for a flicker of a moment, and maybe it'll linger with you a little longer than it does most. Generally speaking you're going to sort of bounce around between the various stages, sometimes for the rest of your life. So... whee!
I'll be honest: this stage is really hard, especially, in my experience, when you're experiencing it with your first child. But that's not to say it isn't without joy and fulfillment, too. It's OK to lean into that joy, and it's OK to not be buoyed by it when times are rough. It's OK to talk about how you feel during each and every postpartum stage and, as an encouraging spoiler, know that, very often, you can look back on even a tough stage and laugh.
Stage 1: WTF Did I Just Do?
I've met very few moms who haven't had a moment, however brief, thinking to themselves ,"OMG, there's no going back now. Wh-... what have I done? This is overwhelming and huge!" Sometimes that translates as feelings of regret — sometimes fleeting, sometimes lingering, never something to be ashamed of because you have just done something huge and in many ways scary.
I've also met very few moms for whom that feeling is permanent, so don't panic just yet.
Stage 2: I Can't Believe The Hospital Just Let Us Take Them Home
On top of your general "OMG WTF" feeling (or slightly after) it is not uncommon to feel downright worried that the hospital trusted you —YOU — to take this brand new human home just because you gave birth to them. Like, "OK, they came out of my body, but I don't know them and you don't know me and how do you know I can be trusted?" The realization that you are the authority figure, when you have no sense of your responsibilities or authority, is a difficult concept to grasp.
Stage 3: What The Hell Just Came Out Of My Vagina?!
Postpartum bleeding and discharge (technical name "lochia") is no laughing matter, people. In fact it's very often a screaming in your bathroom matter because my god.
Stage 4: I Don't Know What I'm Doing
This stage never, ever, ever goes away for very long. I'm pretty sure I'll be questioning how best to help my 71-year-old son through some new challenging, muttering, "There's no book on how to raise a child!"
Stage 5: I Love You So Much
As I said, these stages don't follow a single trajectory, so this may come earlier or later, but I can tell you from my own experience that the overwhelming feelings of love I had for my baby (eventually) were powerful and unlike anything I've ever felt before or since.
Once you get there, this stage never goes away for very long, either, though they will test you.
Stage 6: Everything Makes Me Sad & Anxious
Postpartum hormones are a trip. The result? There will come a time when they crash and surge and you will be a hot mess. Often this can result in feelings of anxiety and sadness. It's called "the baby blues" and it's pretty typical and it passes. If it doesn't, or if you know, in your gut, it's more than the hormones and more than passing sadness and anxiety, talk to your doctor, because they can absolutely help you.
Stage 7: I'm Going To Do It All
Once you've calmed down a little bit and made it through all the very big emotional stages (though, remember, this is not a straight trajectory!), there's a good chance you'll get to a point where you will become determined to be The Perfect Mother™. Full disclosure: this person doesn't exist and you are setting yourself up to do impossible things, which will ultimately lead to disappointment because you do not yet accept that what you're attempting is impossible.
Stage 8: Why Are You Doing This To Me, Baby?
Your baby is a baby: they don't know they have feet yet, much less that they're doing anything that could affect another human being. But it is not uncommon to reach a point where you take their babyness (which is to say their inability to be soothed, their sleeplessness, and their propensity to poop all over everything you own) personally.
Stage 9: Dead Inside
You've run out of tears. You've run out of whatever stores of joy were sustaining you up until now. You are a sleep deprived husk of a woman and this is when you will need someone to swoop in and help you, physically and/or emotionally.
Stage 10: Devastating Self Doubt
This goes beyond "I don't know what I'm doing" and into "OMG I have no business being a mother," along with all the negative and self-deprecating nonsense that will go with it. The best thing to do in this stage is to fake it until you make it by continually telling yourself "this isn't true," even when it feels heartbreakingly true. Because you're doing far better than you think.
Stage 11: Who Even Is My Partner, Tho?
Even moms who have absolutely amazing partners run the risk of getting to the stage. Remember: sleep deprivation, wild emotions, confusion... you're on edge, which means that interpersonal relationships, even good ones, can and will be tested. So it's not uncommon to get frustrated with your partner, warranted or not. The best way through this and past it is to talk through it.
Stage 12: Already Sad Your Baby Is "So Big"
"OMG, my baby is 2-months-old now! They're so big! I miss when they were little."
I'm not saying one is silly for having those feelings (we all have them), but this is maybe the only time I will tell a mom "Oh honey, brace yourself."
Stage 13: Silent Panic
THE BABY SNEEZED! THIS IS CLEARLY ONE OF THOSE DISEASES YOU HEAR ABOUT ON MEDICAL DRAMAS! I NEED TO CALL THE DOCTOR BUT I MUST REMAIN CALM BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT MOM WHO CALLS EVERY TIME HER BABY SNIFFLES AND OMG IS THAT A RASH?! WHAT DOES THE RASH MEAN?! SHOULD I CALL 9-1-1?!
(This phase never truly goes away either, just FYI. It becomes less frequent, generally, as your baby ages, but the mom panic is here to stay.)
Stage 14: Peace & Contentment
It comes and goes.