I didn't particularly enjoy being pregnant. I could've done without the constant nausea and vomiting, the weight gain, and feeling like my body wasn't really my own. I didn't like feeling so out of control when it came to my bodily functions, and the mental stress of growing a human being inside my body was intense... to say the least. But I loved feeling my baby-to-be kick inside me. In fact, it was by far the best part of my pregnancy. And after I gave birth to my son I felt phantom kicks post-pregnancy. I just had no idea that's what they were, or that they're fairly common.
The postpartum period was a shock to my system, and for a number of reasons. I had no idea that I would feel like a bus hit me, then backed up over me, then hit me again after I was done pushing a baby out of my body. I had no clue what sleep deprivation really was like until I went a week without sleeping for no longer than two hours at a time. And I have to say that I was beside myself when I realized that I would still look pregnant when I was postpartum, that I would continue to contract as my uterus grew smaller and smaller, and that I would have the most difficult time going to the damn bathroom.
But nothing threw me for a loop like feeling kicks from a baby that was no longer inside my body.
There's no scientifically proven reason for these "phantom" kicks, but there are a few theories, according to HuffPost. One potential reason is that your uterus is still contracting and shrinking, long after you've had your baby, too. So what feels like a kick is actually your uterus doing, well, uterus things. Gas and muscle spams could also be to blame, according to Babble. Then again, according to HuffPost, as a pregnant person you could have grown so used to paying attention to what's going on in your uterus that you're simply more in-tune with the "random twitches there which happen even when you're not pregnant."
I felt phantom kicks three years after I had my son, which was both surprising and disheartening. When I was postpartum it was almost comforting; like at least one thing in my life that I had come to expect — feeling kicks from inside my body — hadn't changed. Yes, I knew it wasn't my baby because, you know, I was holding him, but in a way those phantom kicks brought me comfort at a time when I was exhausted, stressed out, and trying to figure out how to be the best mother possible.
But when I was feeling kicks three years after the fact, those phantom pains felt more like a cruel joke. I had suffered from secondary infertility — what the Mayo Clinic describes as "the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby" — and randomly feeling what felt like a baby kick in the middle of the night or during the work day just felt like a cruel joke. I was thankful that I could still remember what a baby kicking the inside of my ribs felt like, but when you want to feel that again, and so badly, phantom kicks are more like salt in a very fresh wound than a friendly reminder of something you once cherished.
When I was postpartum I was also taken aback by how little people really focused and/or cared about me. That might sound selfish, considering there was a newborn who needed and deserved constant attention and care, but post-pregnancy women who are sleep deprived, healing from labor and delivery, and at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety need to be cared for, too. We deserve attention, and support, and someone to ask us how we're feeling about our postpartum bodies.
So if you're feeling phantom kicks and they're impacting you in a way you couldn't have possibly foreseen, talk to someone about it. Discuss those odd sensations with a partner, a friend, a health care provider, or a mental health professional. Because it can be weird, wonderful, and painful to feel those kicks from the inside and know that they're not real.