For nine months I reveled in what was (fortunately) an enjoyable pregnancy with my son. I went to yoga class weekly, I tracked the size of my growing bump and I knew that in week 21 my baby was roughly the size of an apple. Minus alcohol, raw fish, and regular clothes, I pretty much kept on living life as I had always done.
But I knew that looming in the distance was the "big day" when my baby would be here. And let's just say the preparation for that day was extensive. I was fascinated by birth itself and really wanted to have an unmedicated birth experience that was as "natural" as possible. I read birth stories and books, took a childbirth education class, and hired a doula. I had a vision for what my experience on the day of delivery would be like, but did not spend much time considering what my mind and body would feel like after that.
I thought a lot about parenting my baby, of course, but I never really gave much thought to what would happen to me in the days and weeks after my baby would arrive. I recall a conversation with a woman I know, where she mentioned how I would feel "gross" after I had the baby. I remember nodding and thinking "oh really, mhm, that's interesting" but had nowhere in my pregnant brain to store or internalize that information. I was having an easy pregnancy and planning for a healthy delivery. I just couldn't understand how after the delivery I could feel anything other than thrilled my baby had arrived.
If you're like me, Instagram and the photographers in the hospital make you think that this is what you'll look like after birth:
...and you might think that image matches how you'll feel, too.
Needless to say, I was not prepared for what my body and mind would go through in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after my son arrived. So, spoiler alert—I'm here to tell you what postpartum is really like.
If you fall anywhere on the spectrum of normal, you'll at a minimum feel sore, achy, exhausted, and emotional after labor and delivery. Many moms experience "tearing" during delivery, which results in stitches. No, not on your eyebrow like you got in 3rd grade after getting hit with a ball during gym class, but down there. It will hurt to sit. If you walk too much (as in from your bedroom to the kitchen) you will get sore. It may burn when you to go to the bathroom. You will need to use ice packs in that region as well. What can I say? Birth may be beautiful, but it's definitely not sexy.
The woman I spoke with during my pregnancy was right; I felt gross. I felt exhausted. I did not feel like myself. It was not just that I felt like I had been hit by a truck because a tiny human had just come through an opening that is normally the size of a coin, but it was also how my physical state affected me emotionally. I felt like my body was destroyed after I had a baby. As a first-time mom, I had no idea that I would feel that way, and more so, how scared that would make me feel.
Living in a society where women are expected to always look their best despite the circumstances (remember that model stock image above?), it was really hard for me to feel less than beautiful in the days and weeks following my son's birth. I had always taken pride in my appearance and tried to look put together whether I was going out with friends or to work. In the weeks after Baby came home, I would look in the mirror and see a tired mom with bags under her eyes, no makeup, and clothes with spit-up on them. I felt like I had given up the ability to look attractive ever again by becoming a mom. When I saw other women and how clean and put together they looked, I was sure that I would never wear non-nursing clothes, do my makeup, or style my hair ever again. While this may all sound superficial, I really felt that a part of my identity had been taken away from me and that was unsettling.
To compound the negative thoughts, the extreme exhaustion I was experiencing made me continually wonder if the Lauren before Baby had been completely swallowed up when I became a mom. I secretly wondered if my body would ever be the same again. And I couldn't understand why no one ever told me I would feel this way!
Many women experience the baby blues or mood swings after having a baby. Bringing a baby home is a big life adjustment and there are a lot of hormones involved. For a lot of moms, these feelings go away after a couple of weeks and the joys of motherhood start to set in. At the time, I didn't think I had anything more serious than that and thought I was in a fog because I was just so tired. But in retrospect, I do wonder if I was experiencing something more serious and just undiagnosed. Between 10 and 20 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression—I urge all moms to really speak to their doctor, partner, parents, and friends about how they are feeling so they can get the support they need and professional help if necessary.
Fortunately, with time, I was able to re-incorporate aspects of my life that had been put on the back burner since my son's arrival. Once my wounds healed, I could walk without feeling sore, and I could sit down without discomfort. I started to feel more like myself. I made an effort to get out of the house and meet up with a friend some days. If I couldn't go out, I would at least talk to a friend over the phone. I think a big part of my negative feelings about my identity being lost were made worse by the feeling of isolation that is so common for new moms. Connecting with friends really helped alleviate that lonely feeling.
After a few months, my son started sleeping more, which meant that I felt less exhausted. I would fit in a manicure or a chair massage on a weekend to get some "me- time." I tried to find time to work out or read a book when my son went to sleep for the night.
My maternity leave ended and I went back to work. My son got cuter by the day. My husband and I re-initiated date night. But the truth is that I didn't feel fully like myself again until my son was almost a year old. I clearly remember the day this happened. I sat down at my dining room table after putting my son to sleep, and I was on the phone with a friend. This feeling suddenly came over me like "wow I feel normal again!" I still had the dark line on my stomach from pregnancy, my muscles were not as toned as they were pre-baby, and despite my son sleeping through the night, I was still a sleep-deprived mommy. I certainly did not feel like I felt before baby—those days are long gone—but I felt that I had reached a new normal and I felt good about it.
Yes, becoming a mom is a huge blessing and there are so many indescribably imperfect perfect times that are in store for you. But this doesn't mean we should ignore or invalidate the less pretty or more challenging parts of the experience.
Wishing all pregnant mamas an easy birth and recovery and the inner strength to remind yourself that you are beautiful and that the hard times will pass.