The Most Surprising Thing About Having a Baby
When I was pregnant with Valentine, I spent so much time preparing for her birth. I read around ten different books about labor and delivery, all of which helped me feel prepared and secure for whenever the time came for her to be born. And as intense and unpredictable as my labor was, I felt like I had all the tools I need to handle the process and the pain of labor. But I was totally and completely unprepared for what came next.
The following two weeks were such a rollercoaster of physical and emotional ups-and-down that I felt traumatized. During that hazy newborn phase, I just kept thinking, “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” Here are a few things I wish I had known about the postpartum period ::
Postpartum is Painful
90% of women tear during a vaginal delivery. The extend of the tearing various widely, but I needed stitches to aid in the healing process (many women do). Because of this, the vaginal opening and surrounding area was tender and sore. It hurt to sit down or have a bowel movement, and I was terrified of even looking at the area, convinced that it was a mangled mess. (I finally just got a mirror and made myself look and it turns out my doctor had sewed me up to look just like my usual self. :)
As I started breastfeeding, my nipples became very sore as well. I remember when I would pull Valentine to my chest to nurse, my mom would look at my sympathetically and say, “It just makes your toes curl, doesn’t it?” I always felt kind of annoyed by this fact, because almost every breastfeeding book will say that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong, but every woman who has ever breastfed will say that it will hurt at first. Eventually I learned that Valentine wasn’t latching on correctly, I was able to make changes, and then my nipples had a chance to heal and toughen up a bit. But in the meantime, good gosh did it hurt.
Don’t Underestimate the Challenge of Sleep Deprivation
My sister had her first child many years before I did. On her first night home from the hospital, my mom offered to come over and take care of the baby during the night, promising to wake my sister only when the baby needed fed. When Logan and I heard about it, we looked at each other and said, “When we’re parents, we won’t be doing that. We wanted to have a baby, so we’ll shoulder the responsibility of that first night.” Oh my gosh. What idiots.
I spent about eight hours laboring through the night before Valentine was born, which is like pulling an all-nighter while running a marathon. My body was tired and sore, trembling from exhaustion, but for the next TWELVE MONTHS, I never slept for more than three hours at a time. Not one full night’s sleep. There would be times during the night when Valentine was crying for food, and I would wake up and think, “I just can’t. I’m physically too tired to even rise out of bed.” But that wasn’t an option; my dearest love would starve without me and so somehow I would get out of bed and feed her. (On the flip-side, after she was fed and I would tumble back into bed, I would sometimes giggle like a maniac because the pillow felt so good. It’s a weird time, folks.)
You Will Feel Like You Could Die From Happiness
There were times when I would look at my newborn Valentine and experience this feeling that was hard to describe. It was some kind of mix between the feeling of anticipating something wonderful (like looking forward to a fun vacation), that moment of totally relaxation right before you drift off to sleep, and an orgasm. I’m not kidding. Later, during some reading about hormones, I learned that I was getting doses of oxytocin in my brain whenever I looked at her. My love for her was literally a drug, addicting me to the sight and smell and feeling of her.
Bonding is a very real physical process that takes place between a mother and her child. For some women it happens instantly, for others it takes day, weeks or even months. But when it happens, it’s an overwhelming experience. My mother-in-law calls it a “tsunami-wave of emotion.” You will be completely drowned with love for your child.
By sharing this, I hope not to scare or overwhelm anyone—I just want to share some things that I wish I would’ve known, hoping that it will be helpful to others. Even though it was such a difficult time, I honestly think that if I had known what to expect, it wouldn’t have felt so traumatizing.
Now I’m finding more and more resources for this postpartum period (like here, here and here). Experts consider mothers to be in recovery for 4-6 weeks after birth, and advise a new mother to not accept any responsibility other than caring for herself and her newborn during this time. They stress the importance of asking for help so that you can stay in bed as much as possible and learn how to feed and care for your baby.
What about you other mamas out there? What was your postpartum period like? How was your recovery? Was it like mine or different? How did you feel about it? Did anyone struggle with postpartum depression? If you could share one piece of advice about the postpartum recovery time, what would it be?
(Check out this gorgeous photo project of mothers with their one-day-old babies.)