Postpartum life can be just as complicated as pregnancy, labor, delivery, and parenthood in general. The first three months of a newborn’s life, also known as the fourth trimester, can be especially taxing on a new mom. There’s fluctuating hormones to deal with, a sore body that needs some TLC, and a helpless mini-human to care for. Still, the pressure to appear "perfect" keeps so many mothers from discussing just how difficult post-birth life can be. Thankfully, when I asked moms to reveal the worst parts about new motherhood, they did so without a second thought.
My fourth trimester was pretty brutal, on all fronts. My son had to spend months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), so I was more stressed out than I’d ever been in my life (and, honestly, have ever been since). I barely slept, hardly ate, and rarely ever showered, so self-care was pretty non-existent. That didn't really change when I brought my son home, either. I had been in survival mode, more or less, and it was significantly difficult to transition out of it so I could enjoy being a mother to my son.
So I’d say the worst part about the fourth trimester, for me, was failing to realize how soon it would end. Sometimes I think I allowed the trauma, the anxiety, the exhaustion, and the frustration to all cloud the positive experiences and memories of parenting a newborn. Like holding my baby for the first time, feeding him for the first time, and enjoying the first time we napped together. I spoke with some other moms on what they felt was the worst part of new motherhood, and this is what they had to share:
"My firstborn was a super screamer. She cried non-stop for four months. She slept in 45 minute chunks, and then would scream for hours. It was amazing. Looking back I’m kind of surprised we survived it. She turned 13 last weekend."
"Honestly, having to learn how to nurse. It was hard work that took eight weeks."
"The first time around, postpartum anxiety was debilitating. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Between that, newfound mom guilt, and learning to breastfeed... goodness. I don't know how I survived.
The second time around I had a handle on everything I couldn't manage before. I was doubly prepared and ready for whatever came my way. What was difficult, though, was learning that having a handle on those things didn't make a damn difference, because each baby is truly different. What worked with the first didn't always work with the second. So while some things were easier (like breastfeeding and postpartum anxiety), a lot of things were still just as difficult as before."
"I would rather be pregnant or give birth naturally a million times more than go through the postpartum period. Severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies and hormones adjusting; it's just brutal. No. Never again."
"The sleep deprivation, difficulty breastfeeding, and the overall feeling of not knowing what you're doing as a first-time mom."
"Personally, I'd rather give birth twice in a row than deal with all the pains of those first few postpartum months. Sleep deprivation, mastitis, and that first week where my core felt like jelly were rough. Oh, and let's not forget that first poop after a second degree tear vaginal birth! The worst part though, for me, was the paranoia. I had a really hard time being around anyone outside of my immediate family, and I even growled at them on the usual. If I ever get to have another baby I might just save up for a postpartum doula."
"The Roller coaster, really. One day you are like, 'Yes, I'm so good at this!' and the next day you are sobbing about how much you suck at being able to figure out this little creature and you are totally screwing everything up. Then, back up."
"The pooping, the leaking, and the not fitting into any clothes."
"Baby number one: Postpartum depression for me and my spouse. Probably cause we didn't have a clue as to what we were doing.
Baby number two: The physical mobility limitations. Trying to recover from birth and chasing a toddler isn't any fun.
Baby number three: The adjusting of breastfeeding since its been 18 months or so since I last did it. Every kid is different, and this one likes to chomp down.
“Feeling like you're making headway with sleep or recovery or feeding, just to run into a growth spurt or mental/emotional developmental leap and totally regress. So, so sleepy.”
“I think the sheer trial and error. Since babies don't come with instructions, they don't really give cues to follow, and everything is just new and foreign to them. I have tons of experience with typically and atypically developing kids and babies, and I always prided myself on being able to 'read clues.' But when they're brand new, it's just a guessing game! There are no schedules to follow. Something that ‘worked’ last night might not work today, etc. It's just about survival. And once you start to ‘hit your groove’ and start ‘enjoying things,’ it's time to go back to work!
"Wanting to have your body back but yet it still isn’t yours (if you're breastfeeding or pumping). Having to explain to everyone that even though you are back at it, mom-ing like a champ, you still have really hard days because hormones. Lastly, not having anything to wear that both feels good and looks good, and also not wanting to waste money on in-between clothes."
“Lack of sleep and back pain made it difficult to be a good caregiver.”
“Trying to show a brave face that maybe I knew what I was supposed to be doing even though I was screaming and terrified inside. Worried I wouldn’t feel a deep connection [with my baby]. When would I be able to look at my baby and feel confident? Crying because breastfeeding didn’t come easy and I had no idea how hard it would be. Belly skin feeling so weird after being so tight. Not being able to sit down properly for a few weeks. Leaking from everywhere. Scared to look at myself down there in the mirror. Throw in lack of sleep and it’s really a wild ride. Worth it, though, when you're on the other side of it.”
“The second time was incredibly hard for me. I felt like I had the flu for about two weeks. My hormones were still stabilizing more than four months after giving birth, too. I would be excited when people came to visit, but exhausted when they left even though I never moved off the couch. And of course, the hardest debate of all: ‘Should I sleep, eat, or shower in these five minutes the baby isn't attached to me?’”
"The limited mobility aspect of things. Between healing and having to feed your baby (in my case) at least every two hours, you're just sort of stuck for a while, which can be very frustrating."
"Being tethered by my boobs. Everything revolves around the boobs. Can't wear a shirt or dress unless I can spring my boobs from it at a moment's notice. Can't leave baby for more than a couple hours, or have to bring a pump and find a place to use it; which is even worse than hauling the baby around and feeding in public. Leaky boobs during sex. Leaky boobs in public. Leaky boobs staining clothes even when wearing nursing pads. Leaky boobs all the time. Having to pump at work once maternity leave is over. Getting clogged milk ducts from pumping at work. I love a lot of things about breastfeeding my kids but damn it is limiting, and occasionally just messy and annoying."
“The adjustment from the ‘old me’ to the ‘new me’ and learning how to reconcile the two. (Took longer than the first three months, but was especially hard during them.) “
“The overwhelming exhaustion.”
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