Contrary to popular belief, maternity leave is not an extended vacation. Recovering from childbirth is not something that happens immediately, either, or even in 12 weeks. At the same time, we romanticize the fourth trimester as nothing but days full of baby snuggles, usually overlooking the fact that those days often include numerous struggles, too. If your partner has never gone through childbirth themselves, it's hard for them to understand. So yeah, sorry dads (and other partners of post-baby parents), but you can't understand what us moms experience after childbirth. You don't need to understand, however, to give us your empathy, support, and encouragement while our bodies recover from something as taxing as pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
I recently read a funny meme that compared recovering from childbirth to feeling like you had been in a car accident, only to be sent home to care for a helpless stranger who was also in a car accident. I must say, that's pretty spot on. I would, however, add bleeding, stitches on my vulva and perineum, undersupply, postpartum depression and anxiety, body image issues, bleeding nipples, uterine contractions, and peeing myself rather regularly to that list. When my last baby was born, I also was recovering from a leg injury and couldn't freaking walk. So, yeah, for me recovering from childbirth was not instantaneous and not very magical.
Honestly, I had a seriously hard time explaining how I felt to both my former husband and current husband. My now ex-husband didn't get understand how I could possibly be depressed. I mean, I had a beautiful baby. What was wrong with me? So I started to believe there was something wrong with me. His complete lack of understanding as to why I didn't want to have sex, and how bad I felt about my postpartum body, also made my postpartum recovery difficult. My current husband has been a constant source of support, but I honestly can't explain how different (and messed up) my body feels, why I can't sleep (even when the baby is sleeping), and how traumatic it was to not be able to breastfeed.
While I would never wish my darkest postpartum moments on anyone, there's so many things I wish I could help my partner understand.
How Much Our Bodies Hurt
It hurt to use the bathroom, it hurt to walk, my back and breasts hurt from pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, and my head hurt from not drinking enough water or getting enough sleep. It's so hard to explain how alien and broken my body felt, so I mostly kept it to myself.
How Weird It Feels To Not Be Pregnant
Sometimes I still wake up and feel my tummy and totally freak out that I'm not pregnant anymore. It's so weird to get used to being pregnant, only to suddenly feel empty and unable to feel your baby kick (at least from the inside).
How Exhausted We Are
Whenever I mentioned how tired I was my husband would say, "I know, I am tired, too." I really had no way of showing him that what he meant by tired and what I meant by tired were probably way different. Not getting sleep when you're sore, depressed, trying to breastfeed, and recovering from a huge physical ordeal is literally the worst. Literally. Life is not a contest, but if it was I think I would totally win in the "completely exhausted" department.
How Much It Hurts To Pee
OMG it hurt so much. It was this incredible burning, searing pain that's almost impossible to describe. I can't adequately articulate how bad it hurts, so all you non-birth parents should just be thankful you can't experience it for yourself.
How Postpartum Depression Feels
It was so weird to confront my postpartum depression. It felt like I was openly admitting that I wasn't a good mom. It was also incredibly difficult to reconcile being depressed when I should have been over the moon about my new baby. It is impossible to explain how it feels.
How Impossible Simple Tasks Seem
There was really no way to explain how I was home all day and still didn't manage to get out of bed. I felt so lazy, but I couldn't make myself do much of anything. Some days I felt accomplished if I got the mail or managed to eat something other than a granola bar. I totally deserved a high five for showering, and a "world's most OK mom" trophy for managing to put on clean clothes.
How Our Bodies Don't Feel Like Our Own
Being pregnant, and then caring for a newborn, can make you feel like your body is not yours at all.
How It Feels To Be Touched Out
After days of breastfeeding, snuggles, and walking the house with the baby, the last thing I wanted was to be touched. Even by my husband. I know it was difficult for him to accept that it wasn't him, it was me, but it was equally difficult for me to articulate just how it feels to be touched out.
How It Feels To Look Pregnant When You're Not
My now ex-husband will never be able to take back his comment that I still looked pregnant five days postpartum. I wish that hospitals gave partners a handout about what to expect and, more importantly, what not to say. Who says that? Seriously.
How Diminished Our Self-Esteems Are
I honestly hate my postpartum body. I have no confidence, it's hard to feel sexy when you are recovering from childbirth, and my partner just doesn't understand. Every time he tells me I am beautiful, I think he's lying.
How Much Patience We Need
Just because people can technically have sex at six weeks postpartum, doesn't mean they want to (or should have to). Same goes for doing things you enjoyed before getting pregnant and bringing another human being into the world. I wish my partner just knew how all that feels, and how much time I need to find my neutral again. If anything sucks more than not being able to do something you previously enjoyed, it's disappointing your partner at the same time.