So now that I’m a few months postpartum, I suppose I fancy myself some sort of postpartum expert. Well really, when compared with what I knew before (read: NOTHING), I truly am an expert.
I don’t know what it is about the whole pregnancy and new baby process, but there are so many details that nobody shared with me (or maybe I’m just in the wrong circles?? The conundrum of an older mom with childless friends??) Outside of the actual baby making process, which gets far too much attention, the rest has basically been a big mystery to me. Kind of a Google-as-I-go type experience.
So I thought I would do my part and try to share some of the biggest surprises or “not-what-I-was-expectings” I encountered after giving birth:
- Mothers don’t always immediately bond with their babies. Okay, so at first I thought there was something wrong with me. Up until the moment I delivered, I was fully expecting a heartfelt and tearful first meeting with my child. Heck, I cry when the kids on 16 and Pregnant give birth! So why was it different with my own son? I was sort of… hmmm… indifferent? Relieved that I did my job and delivered, immediately interested in his health and well-being, but not overly emotional in the slightest. In fact, it took a good few weeks before that moment, that tidal wave of emotion, finally overtook me. So why? I’m not really sure, but my best guess is that up until that point, “my baby” was an abstract concept. The focus was on preparing for The Baby, putting together a nursery for The Baby, keeping The Baby healthy, and then ultimately safely delivering The Baby. It’s really like a job in a way, and I think I approached it with a detachment similar to that – preparing and getting ready, but not one iota of an emotional investment. I realize now that this is VERY normal; and that it can take days, weeks, or sometimes even months for a mother to fully and completely bond with her child. I wish I had known this upfront; as instead I wondered if what I was feeling was normal, if I was a good mother, if this was IT as far as the feelings I would feel for my baby??
- Your physical recovery will be tougher than expected. At least in my case. I knew delivery was gonna be tough, but I had no clue as to what to expect after that. Nobody talks about it! I figured that I was healthy, I worked out, and after a few days I should be in pretty good shape. NOPE! It took me weeks before I could sit down normally, and weeks more before I could even consider working out again. Stairs were ridiculously difficult. When a friend asked me what I felt like physically after giving birth, I don’t think I was too far off when I replied that I felt like a bomb had gone off down there. I even called my doctor at one point asking her is this normal??? She assured me that it was. So instead of expecting to immediately become SuperMom, take care of yourself. Rest in bed. Let hubby take on more chores. HEAL. It ain’t an easy process.
- You will bleed like you’ve never bled before. And I was supposedly prepared for this! I stocked up on the super-ultra-extra-long-nighttime-double-wing maxi pads thinking I was armed and ready. HA! For those who don’t know, the sanitary napkins they give you in the hospital are the size of dishtowels. NO JOKE. I actually laughed when the nurse gave me my first one. But boy, I stopped laughing when I was changing those suckers every hour on the hour. At the risk of sounding dramatic, you will think you’re hemorrhaging. There is THAT MUCH BLOOD. And it doesn’t stop for weeks on end. I guess the good news is that I will never complain about a heavy period again.
- Baby’s meconium will ruin everything it comes in contact with. Black, tarry, and incredibly sticky, it does not come out. It’s difficult to even wash it off your hands… think black leg wax getting on your fingers and clothes. Do everything in your power to keep it in the diaper and in the diaper alone.
- You will still look pregnant. So sad, but so true. Despite believing that I had lost every one of the 36 pounds I had gained with the breaking of my water and delivery of the baby and placenta, I was wrong. I still had my bump. I was convinced that the nurse forcefully massaging my bump twice daily was doing me a favor in helping to get my tummy back to normal; turns out she was simply trying to massage my uterus back into place. It probably took a good 2 weeks for the bump to go all the way down…. well, go down to the base layer of baby fat that I now had to lose.
- You will bloat like Violet the blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Postpartum hospital pictures are NOT YOUR FRIENDS. As bloated as I was at the end of my third trimester of pregnancy, it was nothing compared to the beach ball I ballooned into immediately after giving birth. I’m told that this is largely the fault of Pitocin. Whatever the case, expect to look precisely your worst at precisely the moment when hundreds of new baby pictures are immortalizing you forever. Quick Tip: At least wear a cleavage-flattering shirt (as the saying goes, there’s no great loss without some small gain).
- You will lose a lot of hair. Remember that “thick and luxurious” hair that is so heavily touted during pregnancy? Get ready to lose it. I thought I was somehow exempt as my hair remained intact for the first couple of months postpartum. Then suddenly, at exactly 12 weeks, the shedding began. Handfuls of hair falling out all over the place – blocking shower drains, coating the couch, littering my pillow, and even getting all over the baby when I held him (which is ironic, because that’s right about the time he started losing his hair too). You become scared to run a brush through your hair for the clumps you will find in it afterwards. Last week my hairdresser pointed out the tiny little hairs growing in above my forehead. So I guess it does come back… Eventually.
- The Flu will find you. I am never sick. Truly. Maybe once every several years I will catch a cold. Yet in the four months since I’ve given birth, I’ve had the flu no fewer than 4 times. I’m doing everything right – trying to sleep, taking my vitamins, taking extra vitamin C supplements, trying to eat right, and barely even leaving the house… but it still gets me. I’m told this is because my immunity is at an all-time low right now after my body has gone through the ginormous effort of building and delivering a baby. I’m told that it sucks every nutrient out of you and depletes your “stores.” Whatever the case, seems like it’s true. So stock up on tissues and remedies.
- You will become a weepy basket case. At least I did. I thought pregnancy hormones were bad, but postpartum hormones take the cake. I cry over everything. My baby. My husband with the baby. When the baby is unhappy. When the baby is joyful. TV shows. Commercials. Other peoples’ babies. It appears that this situation has improved as time has gone on, but I do feel like the birth of my son has permanently tapped into some previously-untouched crying receptor in the brain. I suppose the best I can hope for at this point is to try to control the impulse during inopportune moments.
- ANXIETY takes on a whole new meaning. I’ve never been an especially calm person. I am a worrywart by nature and am often afflicted by Analysis Paralysis. But my anxiety has skyrocketed 10-fold since the birth of my son. I doubt I will ever have a fully restful night of sleep again. Every random scenario that could possibly happen – I’ve accounted and planned for. I worry about falling down the stairs while holding my baby, I worry about his bowel movements, I worry about him hitting milestones, I worry about letting him out of my sight, I worry about the risk of illness, I even worry about things like what if my husband was driving us in the car and suddenly passed out or had a heart attack – yes, I worry about all of it. And, sad to say, I don’t think that anxiety is subsiding anytime soon.
So there you have it. Not all of it is bad, but they are things I wish I had been told prior to experiencing. And these are just the ones that come immediately to mind – I’m sure there are many others I’m missing. Of course the beautiful part of postpartum months is the time spent getting to know and bonding with your baby. So all of these inconveniences are minor drops in the bucket compared to that.
Still… I would have liked to have known. 🙂