It’s finally here. Nine months of glowing and growing great with child is coming to an end.
Your bags are lovingly and perfectly over-packed. The nursery is ready for its new tenant, complete with woodland decor and newborn outfits galore. You’ve debated the merits of different breast pumps and the kind of music your little one should listen to in utero. You’ve got your birth plan in hand and you’re ready to meet your much anticipated bundle of joy.
That was me! While I had come in contact with some unfortunate pregnancy realities (hello, stretch marks and loss of bladder control!), I was still operating in a very romanticized idea of the birthing process and postpartum life. My concept of recovery, particularly as it relates to the body, was very skewed, and I remember feeling sucker punched after we brought our first little home. I knew the general expectations: sleep deprivation, infrequent showers, high stress levels. But no one told me about the psychotic hormone swings and the tearing and what you actually need to pack for after birth. So just in case no one told you, here are some reality checks I wish I had known before heading to the hospital...
No. 1 You will not leave the hospital in your pre-pregnancy jeans.
If you can do this, congratulations. But for now, let's lower your expectations. The fact is, you just pushed a person out of your body. Your hips accommodated that entrance. Crazy awesome! But sometimes hips don't go back right away. Here’s the silver lining: you earned the right to wear yoga pants indefinitely.
Other things that don’t magically shrink? That baby-less bump. It will look like dough. Dough, I tell you. And it will feel like Jell-o because you haven't actually been able to use your abdominal muscles like a normal person. And that's OKAY. You will still look pregnant. Three-to-six months pregnant. If you were hooked up to any amount of saline during labor, you will most likely be bloated and swollen as well.
After I gave birth to our first, The Mister and I took a walk around the hospital and a male nurse saw us and said "Oh! Any time now!" Ouch. Poor guy. We let him in gently on our little secret and the look of shame on his face was laughable. I kept waddling around, looking as big as I felt, and surprised that I was still as big as I was.
Postpartum, your uterus is still very stretched-out and actually has to "migrate" back to it's original spot. This involves some pretty uncomfortable contractions/menstrual-like cramping, but nothing compared to the ordeal you just went through.
No. 2 When I said bring yoga pants, make 'em black.
And consider disposable underwear. Or at least black underwear.
You will bleed and maybe even wonder if you are going to die from bloodloss. There is so much. I wore the most gigantic pads in existence for weeks. Clots the size of cotton balls. You should be stocking up on pads like it's the apocalypse.
And while we're down there...
No. 3 You will be terrified of your first bowel movement.
If you tore - which is common - the thought of putting any sort of pressure on that tender, newly stitched area is harrowing. Cleansing every time helps, but there’s no getting around it - it's gonna hurt when you poop. Especially because when you give birth, your body shuts that part of digestion down for a while, sometimes days. So not only is it sore, but things have accumulated. AND hemorrhoids sometimes occur from pushing which basically make it feel like you're pooping shards of glass. (No silver lining here.) Frequency helps, but that first one is rough.
And while urinating stings for a bit, be prepared to have no control over your bladder, which leads me to...
No. 4 You will wear panty liners for the foreseeable future.
Remember when I told you to stock up on pads? You’ll want an inventory of these, too. Much like the third trimester, bladder control is almost unattainable but for different reasons. When you're pregnant, you pee when you sneeze/laugh/cough/hiccup because there is a tiny person pushing on the organ in question. However, after you have a baby, you just pee because there’s little to no control over those stretched-out muscles. Why didn’t I do more kegels?! And who on earth remembers to do kegels?! Oh yeah, me - but only when I accidentally wet my pants. Post-it note that reminder somewhere prominent, but discreet. In the meantime, don't freak out. Just wear a panty liner.
Speaking of freaking out…
No. 5 You will cry for no reason at all.
There I was, walking down the peanut butter aisle at Target, my newborn happily sleeping in his carseat in the cart. The Mister had just taken our toddler to get a free cookie at the front counter, and all of a sudden I needed to bawl my eyes out. Uncontrollable sobbing, and no idea why. What the heck is wrong with me? Oh yeah, I had a baby and that does weird stuff to your hormones.
Those first couple of weeks are trippy. I wasn’t angry or sad or apathetic, I was happy. My newborn was relatively easy, I was getting a decent amount of sleep, our toddler was adjusting well. But there were these moments where out of nowhere I would find myself drowning in waves of despair with nothing in particular triggering my helpless feelings. (If you suspect you might have postpartum depression which is very common, please see your doctor.)
After a few weeks everything evened out, but it still left me rattled at how raw and rapid some of my extreme and unreasonable emotions hit me.
Other scary things?
No. 6 Breasts. They get bigger. And your nipples will be in agony if you breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is a whole new ball game. Your nipples are not accustomed to so much attention and it takes a few weeks to desensitize. After my first, cracking and bleeding after every feeding was normal. I tried loose bras and nursing pads along with creams and oils, but either way it curls your toes. Worth it, but painful.
Now let’s talk about size. When I got married, I was a very comfortable 34C. Then I got pregnant with my first and entered 34D. Then I gave birth to my first and wandered into 34DD. Then came the second kid. Welcome to the Land of 34E. !!! It's just too much. Dealing with boobs is a nuisance. Cleavage, squishing them into shirts that used to fit perfectly before, etc. I just want my Cs back. They can’t possibly get any bigger, but if my track record proves consistent, I'll be devouring more of the alphabet if we make more babies.
The other problem with postpartum boobs? They're not just bigger - they move. Totally independent of my will. I often wondered back in my perfect-boob days how old women got saggy breasts. I know now. They fill up with milk, they get emptied of milk. On and on the cycle goes. And then they're weaned and left just a little lower than they perched before. I get the idea behind push-up bras now. Gravity is a mean force to reckon with. And they’re not just lower but lined. Fine white scars trace both and remind me of how much they’ve been through in the last few years. I’ve accepted them for the beautiful things they have done, and I’ve also accepted my tummy which leads me to my last lesson.
No. 7 If you get stretch marks, more than likely you will have a "pooch." And yes, you are beautiful.
I gained 50 pounds with both of my children and that kind of surplus was more than my skin could handle. I now have a faint web of marks that lace my thighs, my hips, my tush, my sides, and my belly. And you know what? I'm still smokin'.
If you away from pregnancy without a mark, really truly, I'm joyful for you. But I'm also overjoyed for those who carry the scars from motherhood because it serves as such a beautiful reminder of what you did. Who you grew.
One blog post I absolutely can't recommend enough is On Beauty, Postpartum and Otherwise from Newly Wifed. If you need a pick me up, this mama puts her body into perfect perspective, and I read it pretty often to see myself and my body with clarity. Here's an excerpt:
"Who can say this body isn't glorious, that my new squishy tummy isn't the perfect place for my newborn to nap and my web of stretch marks doesn't tell the loveliest story of how she once slept and grew beneath my skin?
I'm beginning to understand beauty as more of something we feel, something that stirs us, rather than something we see. I've never felt more in tune with my body than I did through labor and birth and now new motherhood, but I've also never felt so little ownership of it. My body is no longer just a physical concept for me to obsess over for lack of self-esteem--it belongs to a tiny human for much bigger purposes like nourishment and comfort. It's more than how it looks. What a gift to both of us that it's healthy and functioning well enough to conceive, carry, birth, and nurse a child! You can't convince me that isn't beautiful."
via Newly Wifed
You are beautiful - no matter your stripes.
For those of you about to enter motherhood: it is wonderful. It’s hard and amazing and worth every moodswing, every cup size, every inch gained, every minute of sleep lost. Your body will change and you are beautiful, Mama. Now go pack some black underwear and stock up on maxi pads!
This article is not intended to serve as medical information or diagnoses. If you have medical questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor.