It is amazing what the female body is capable of– creating and growing new life, going into labor, and giving birth. It’s easy to appreciate the miracle of pregnancy and birth; what I did not fully appreciate, however, is the long-lasting implications. My post on my expectations and reality of birth was well-received, so I thought I would do a similar exploration of the postpartum experience, specifically the physical* side of postpartum recovery.
DISCLAIMER: Some of this stuff may be gross/graphic. I’m not pulling any punches since the point of this is to share how it really was. Read at your own discretion.
Pregnancy grows the belly (duh) so it seems obvious that there would be some long-lasting effects on this part of the body. Still, I honestly did not know what to expect. What surprised me was how “rattled” my body felt. I felt crampy and uncomfortable for some time afterwards, though I was so focused on my new baby that I didn’t mind too much. My stomach felt squishy (no better way to put it), and suddenly those faint stretch marks that I was sporting were bright red. I have a pooch where I never did before, and it’s shaped kinda weird. Do a google search for postpartum bellies and you’ll see what I mean. Sorry, I am not willing to post a picture on here! The most frustrating thing about all of this is that there is no easy fix. Stretch marks will fade, but that takes time. The abdominal muscles will come together again… most likely. But that takes time and exercise. The weight can be lost, but I’ve been so ravenous it’s hard to say how long that could take. Bottom line? I’m still squishy.
2) Bleeding and Other Things “Down There”
Everyone knows you bleed after giving birth, but I was truly unprepared for how much. When it was time to get up to go to the bathroom I needed help getting up because I was so sore. The squirt bottle they give you is the best thing ever because the last thing you want to do post-birth is wipe that area. I expected that I might tear, especially given that I specifically asked not to be given an episiotomy unless it was necessary to prevent the wrong kind of tearing. I had two tiny tears in my labia. WHAT?! That’s a thing?? I didn’t know it could happen, and I am still unclear why it happens. The issue with those tears is that it is nearly impossible to avoid the pain caused by normal things like dabbing the area dry or wearing clothing. The ice packs helped, but there were times it just hurt and I had to deal. It took about 6 weeks to heal, which is longer than I would have expected.
The first week I was EXHAUSTED. Because newborn. I expected to be sleep deprived, but I did not consider the fact that the postpartum sleep deprivation might be made worse by going into labor at night and (this is key) not being able to contract in any position except standing. I was FREAKING EXHAUSTED, to the point that I pushed for 40 minutes with my eyes closed the entire time. I was just that tired. What I did not expect was that my energy level returned almost to normal within about a week of giving birth. Yes, I still get tired on occasion from lack of sleep, but I can do things like take long walks, climb stairs, etc and not tire out like I did while I was pregnant. The result of this is that I want to get out of the house more than I thought I would want to. I constantly had to remind myself to slow down and allow my body to recover. This is really important. It’s possible to do yourself damage by getting too active too quickly.
Okay. The thing about me is that I have always had big breasts. Pregnancy made them even bigger. I expected that they would get EVEN BIGGER when my milk came in because that is what the internet told me. I (and the internet) was wrong. I expected that breastfeeding would be relatively easy. I was wrong. In reality it took me over 5 weeks to get the hang of it, and then just when I thought I had it figured out I got mastitis. Mastitis is a special kind of hell that I hope you never, ever have to experience. It is like having the flu, while having a hard/tight/sore/aching breast… all while being expected to continue to care for a baby at all hours of the day and night. Oh, and if you are breastfeeding you get to push through the pain and keep nursing. A couple of notes regarding nursing: pain as baby latches is normal. Ongoing pain while nursing (or after) is NOT normal. If your nipple is shaped weird, like a new lipstick, it is likely a latch issue. I HIGHLY recommend finding a lactation consultant. They can help you, and it CAN get better.
I truly expected that hormones would return to normal after giving birth. It turns out that I was terribly wrong. Hormones affect milk production, so it makes sense that hormones can still run you over. I still get pretty emotional at times (and over unexpected stuff!)… Being tired doesn’t help. I now get more headaches, which don’t last long and seem tied to how often I breastfeed. On the up-side, my skin has cleared up considerably!
6) Sex and Birth Control
I confess, we haven’t had sex since Bug was born. It took the full six weeks to recover physically, and as tired as we’ve been it just hasn’t been a priority. As for birth control, in the past I charted my cycle using a variation of NFP. This is much more difficult to do postpartum, for obvious reasons, so on Monday I got the copper IUD. It was a little uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as I expected. I have been bleeding/spotting since then, so hopefully that’ll stop soon. It is non-hormonal, making it the perfect option for someone like me (hormonal birth control and I do NOT work well together).
What am I missing? How has your postpartum experience compared?
*This post does not address emotional recovery, but I do want to mention how normal it is to experience increased anxiety and mild depression known as the “baby blues”. More severe depression, known as postpartum depression or PPD, is also not uncommon and there are treatment options to help if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and depressed.