It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks the baby will be a year old. Life postpartum has been an extraordinary journey no doubt, as most mom’s will likely tell you. There are moments of intense joy, watching her smile for the first time or crawl across the room. There’s that unforgettable giggle that is uniquely hers…watching her melt Daddy’s heart…
These are the things that everyone tells you about–well, that and the lack of sleep–but coming up on what has been a very overwhelming year I’ve realized that there’s a lot of things that people don’t tell you about. I’ve chosen to share some of them with you. Be warned, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows down below, but it’s not all stormy skies either.
It Takes a Year to Recover Physically
To say that pregnancy changes your body is probably one of the greatest understatements in the history of mankind. The immense changes a woman undergoes so that she can grow and carry a child for almost 10 months from the size of a clump of cells to roughly 7 pounds of baby is nothing short of a miracle (or some well-selected evolution).
My own pregnancy tested the limits of my short frame. My daughter was on the longer side and towards the last 2 months occupied all possible space between my pelvis and my ribs. Being short of breath became a small problem around 32 weeks and I stopped climbing the stairs at work. I had previously cut out running around 19-20 weeks due to round ligament pain but tried to stay active as much as I could. Working as a Hospitalist PA kept me busy and on the move. It helped with the weight gain as I gained an acceptable 33 pounds despite my love of chocolate and fries. I actually worked up until 35 weeks without much change other than the addition of constant comments about my belly size from every patient and random person in the hall. (Seriously, no one knows how big they are more then the person pregnant. There’s no need to point it out!)
At 34 weeks my BP was just a touch high at 130/80, and my OB prompted me to check back in the following week. While I felt fine at the time I progressively began to feel worse as the week went on and sure enough my pressure began to climb. I was starting to have more contractions while walking around so I went on modified bedrest for 2 weeks and was scheduled for induction at 37 weeks in order to prevent a stroke, not to mention the baby struggling with such limited room.
36 hours of labor later (pushing for 6 of them) I was no longer pregnant, but postpartum. Gone was the heartburn and the fluid retention in a matter of 24 hours. But in its place was fatigue from blood loss and the marathon I had just done. I could barely hold my daughter for her first feeding, and I was terrified of dropping from my arms giving out. This slowly got better over my 6 weeks of maternity leave, to the point where I could go for walks on the treadmill. I wasn’t even remotely close to be able to run. It would be another 3-4 months before I could work myself up to a complete mile.
Pregnancy weight is something nearly all women complain about. I dropped about 10 pounds at delivery with another 7 in fluid during the following week. The remaining 16 would slowly come off by the time the little one was 7 months old. And while I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight I still wasn’t myself. It would take the rest of the year before my endurance would return. It helped to try and have a goal in mind. So I focused on completing a 10K, not a half. It’s currently in the works for September 15th.
It Takes A Year to Recover Emotionally
While not everyone struggles with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety or PTSD, it’s still shockingly common. A new study shows that 1 in 7 women experience PPD/PPA and that it can linger up to a year after delivery. This was something I suspected might happen given my own history of depression and anxiety, but I never expected it to be as hard as it was.
As I mentioned above delivery was not easy nor was it uncomplicated. When my daughter finally started crowning she was face up, a tight fit. And at the end she became stuck, being squeezed to death by me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. My sister watched as the FHR monitor dropped into the 60s. What was supposed to be a private event became the scene of nightmares as 3 NICU nurses and 7 labor and delivery nurses rushed in. My labor team shoved out of the way as hands were applied in various positions providing traction. They told me “we need you to relax and stop pushing.” After being awake for 36 hours and running a marathon the last 6, it was the one command I would follow.
But the nightmare didn’t end there.
The NICU teams worked on reviving my daughter with stimulation and airway support. Her initial Apgar’s of 1 and 5 improved to a 9 after another five minutes. The NICU doctor said that was very good for her to improve as rapidly as she did and she should no signs of a brachial plexus injury. Before they took her to the NICU for a final check they let me semi-hold her for a moment.
The first thing I said to my daughter was how sorry I was for not being good enough to get here safely.
It wasn’t until I was wheeled over to mother-baby, cleaned up and everyone had stepped out so that I could rest that I tried to process things. Imagine being alone, exhausted, anxious about your daughter, so much you don’t feel safe keeping her in the room with you. That’s where my mind was for a long time. I was fortunate enough to have a family and husband who stayed as supportive as they could. And when it wasn’t enough after 3 months, I sought counseling. It helped. I’ve slowly put the pieces back together. I’ve had periods of genuine happiness this spring and summer, though as we get closer and closer to one year, emotions and images are resurfacing. I refuse to let myself be a victim though. And I never want my daughter’s birthday to be marred by such I things.
You are still YOU
Despite all of these changes to your life, learning to care for a little one, adjusting your sleep schedule, putting yourself back together, You are still You. What I mean by this is that you are still the same person underneath, with just the added title of mom. Having a baby didn’t mean my desire to be an independent, creative force of nature ended. There are of course people who would tell you that and yes, having a baby certainly has provided some challenges in regards to managing time for projects, (as well as the ability to randomly go do something) but it doesn’t mean all is lost.
Rather than let my life be completely centered around my daughter’s needs, I have chosen to incorporate her into what already exists. Let me clarify a bit. It’s not uncommon for new mom’s to wall up or be told not to go anywhere initially since a newborn requires such excessive care. From early on my husband and I were adamant about figuring out how to manage taking her out without much fuss. Her first week of life included a trip to Walmart while we picked up supplies and a company picnic at a local dairy.
You learn how to pack what you need but not to excess as to let yourself get bogged down. You learn timing, so that you get things done so naps are still gotten. You learn how to use a jogging stroller, how to baby proof your studio office, how to use a public bathroom with a baby. I rarely think “I can’t do ‘X’ anymore because I have a baby”, instead I think “how can I include her in ‘X’?” After all, I want her to learn to be independent too.
You have a New Concept of Love
When I got married I thought I knew what love is. But when I started caring for my daughter I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface. The emotions felt when I hold her is something I have never known before her, and unfortunately it’s something that really can’t be fully described. She feels genuinely warm and wonderful when I hold her, a feeling which only magnifies as she learns to be more affectionate as she grows. She recently started hugging, something that made me tear up the first time it happened.
This change in concept has been reflected in other relationships as well. I feel closer to my husband now than ever before. And I understand the bond with my mom on a deeper level.
Life postpartum has given me insight into who I am as an individual, what I’m capable of and what possibilities lay before me. The lesson’s I’ve learned this year about strength, patience and love I will strive to carry with me. I hope to use my daugther’s birthday as a way of remembering these lessons and blessings year after year. And I hope, if you’ve managed to stick with me through this post for this long, that it provides you with some insight into the things you’re generally not told about life postpartum.