Today I’m getting really real about what the postpartum experience was like for me. I’m mostly talking about the first 3-4 months postpartum, as that tends to be the most tender time. Although now, at a little over 10 months postpartum, I’m still experiencing some things that I’ll dive into later. Also, super fun added bonus of this post is that I’ve also polled some of my mom friends in a Facebook group to get their take and they’ve graciously shared their experiences with me (and now you) too!
Let me start by saying that although I work in the birth/postpartum world, nothing could have prepared me for my own experiences. I naively thought I would not only survive but thrive in the postpartum because I knew exactly what to expect and had prepared nourishing Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine meals to last me 6 weeks. Boyyyyy was I in for a rude awakening.
Most people will tell you that the first months postpartum are so hard mainly because you’re sleep deprived. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “sleep now because you won’t once that baby’s here.” For me, this wasn’t even that hard. I think it’s partly because of my job, but the “lack of sleep” wasn’t bad. Toni slept fairly long stretches from the get-go, and as a doula I was used to waking up at weird hours and staying awake for a while to support other people. So, the disruption in my normal sleep patterns wasn’t tough. Here’s what was…
Postpartum Experiences No One Told Me About
Before I dive in let me do the usual caveat – this is MY experience. It doesn’t mean you will experience the exact same things or that if you don’t something is “wrong.” I simply want to speak my truth in case it helps someone else. I wish I knew more about these things before going into my fourth trimester.
1) lochia (the bleeding after childbirth) is normal and can happen up to 6 weeks and sometimes longer. I obviously had this, but I was not prepared for the smell. It wasn’t bad or funky – I didn’t suspect an infection or anything. But for me it smelled like cheap red wine and I thought that was so weird. If more people had told me that lochia might smell different to me I wouldn’t have been as surprised. So, now you know.
2) omg you guys, the night sweats. I soaked through my clothes nightly for weeks. Maybe even 2 months. With all this sweating came really stinky BO. I’ve never been a terribly stinky person so this was really weird for me. Even now, I still have to put on deodorant before I go to bed unless I want to wake up smelly.
3) Baby blues. Okay, I knew about baby blues but wow. Mine were really really intense for about 3-4 weeks. I would have really low lows. I cried at the drop of a hat. The thought of my husband going back to work 10 days postpartum and leaving me alone sent me into a tail spin. My best friend described it so perfectly – I felt like I had split personalities. So happy and in love one moment and feeling really depressed or anxious the next. At one point I had a thought of “disappearing” and it scared the shit out of me. Did that mean I wanted to step outside for a while and regroup? Did it mean I wanted to run away and never come back? Did it mean I wanted to die? I immediately told my sister and she said she had the same exact thought when she was postpartum. And now that I’ve talked about it openly with other moms, I know that this can be normal. Of course, please please please reach out to your family, friends, a trusted professional (thank you, therapists) if you’re having such thoughts. Even if you think it’s nothing. It helps so much to talk it out and if you truly do need help, they can help you!
4) Phantom baby kicks!!! This one took me by complete surprise. After you have a baby, your internal organs start to fall back into place as your uterus shrinks. This causes lots of grumbling and movement in your abdomen and they feel JUST LIKE BABY KICKS. At one point I felt a “kick” and said out loud “awww the baby’s kicking me” and then I looked down and I was holding my girl on the outside and was like omg I legit thought she was still inside me. It was so weird and lasted weeks after Toni was born.
5) Pooping. Okay, so I knew that the first poop after you have a baby can be tough but no one talks about it being hard for weeks, maybe months after your baby is born. For me, the first poop was totally fine, but then I got majorly constipated in the weeks after. I still have some struggles with this 10+ months postpartum. It’s 100% due to hormones and I try so hard to eat the right foods (warm, oily foods to get things moving, warm water, etc.) but at the end of the day my hormones are gonna do what they do and it gets the best of me.
6) Wearing a bra 24/7. Once your milk comes in, and if you’re breastfeeding, you are leaking as it regulates to meet the exact needs of your baby. This can take 6+ weeks so for the first 2-3 months I had to wear a bra or nursing tank 24/7 so that I could wear breast pads that would catch the leaking milk. This was so hard and uncomfortable for me because I’m a no-bra-at-night kind of gal.
7) The hair loss! Holy cow this surprised me. I had always seen it happening with friends and people on Instagram but I lost a serious amount of hair and it took me by surprise. From about 3-6 months postpartum I went completely bald above me temples. Now it’s growing back into epic curly devil horns :). Everyone said it was “normal” but I recommend doing things like acupuncture to help balance your body and hopefully curb how much hair you lose.
Other things the ladies in my Facebook mom group experienced include:
– healing of your vagina/vulva after birth. This includes if you have an episiotomy or even natural tearing. Lots of them were surprised at how long it took to heal. Also, sex can really hurt after having a baby. So checking in with a pelvic floor physical therapist is crucial to postpartum healing – I even recommend seeing one pregnant as well!
– blood clots in your lochia. Your provider will tell you what you should look out for and when to come in if you pass a large clot, but blood clots after birth happen and they can be scary!
– breastfeeding is so hard. It can be physically painful and mentally exhausting and frustrating. It often times isn’t natural and wonderful to start (and might not be ever).
– how emotional you can be! Super alarming and those hormones drop fast!
– c-section recovery. As one of the mom’s in my group said, “It was by far the most physically and mentally challenging road to recover from major surgery while dealing with the challenges of becoming a mom for the first time, not to mention being unable to really be a good partner to my husband. I was in pain and basically useless for 8+ weeks and that was really tough for me.” There is so much truth here!
– how much your marriage/partnership dynamic can change. Having a baby totally disrupts your own personal life, but also your closest relationships. A few women in my group spoke to this and I totally can relate. Postpartum is HARD for you, your partner, and your other relationships too
– the 4 month sleep regression! So many people talk about newborn sleep being awful (and it can be) but be prepared for your newborn to totally change their sleep habits about 12 weeks postpartum – basically when a lot of people are going back to work. No one really tells expectant parents about this and I wish they would. It’s normal, but so hard
– just how long it can take your body to heal! Sex is different, working out is different, everything is just different and that’s ok! But it can also be really surprising. Taking it slowly and easing back into things is key, but also things might never go back to “normal.” You’re a different human now – give yourself some grace
For those who have had babies – what surprised you the most?