This weekend, I took Hannah to the zoo with a friend & her kiddos. While hanging out and letting the kiddos run around (or in Hannah’s case, practice standing) in the air conditioned and therefore best exhibit in the zoo, the Orangutans, we ran into a couple who was there with their tiny one month old baby. As we chatted and they expressed how they just needed to get out of the house and walk around, I was immediately taken back to when PJ & I were in the exact same situation with our 3 week old Hannah.
We chatted about breastfeeding struggles, lack of sleep, and all the crazy aspects of what I fondly look back on as the newborn fog. We talked about how insanely difficult it is to latch a newborn to your boob in public when you can't even see them because you're trying to stay modest under a nursing cover. I remember those early days so clearly and so distantly at the same time, because it really was a fog. There were so many high highs, and so many intensely overwhelming and anxiety filled moments as well.
Since I have already documented my birth story, I wanted to take some time to document my postpartum experience as well. Everyone has different experiences, but for me, postpartum was by far the most difficult part of my pregnancy / birth / becoming a parent experience. It was also the part I had given the least thought to, since prior to having a child, it's very hard to imagine and prepare for what things will be like post-birth.
Immediately after giving birth, I felt like a rockstar. That epidural was clearly still working well because I was on a high, and didn't feel anything but pure joy and excitement over what had just happened. I was able to walk to our postpartum room unassisted, and was genuinely feeling like the hardest part was behind me. Little did I know that a few days later, I'd be saying I would give birth all over again in comparison to how I was struggling through postpartum.
I don't want to paint a miserable picture, because honestly, for every difficult moment there were far more beautiful moments of just marveling at the new little being in front of me. That's what was magical about my newborn fog experience, the joy was still so tangible even amidst the difficulty of it all. After a hard day, I would always look back in my camera roll (because you bet I was taking hundreds of pictures a day) and remember that the day wasn't all bad, there were always sweet moments captured to remind me of that.
48 hours after giving birth, I was sore all over my body. My legs were sore, my stomach muscles were sore, my back was sore, my arms were sore and my boobs were sore. Everything hurt! My body was recovering from just giving birth, my boobs were quite literally torn up from breastfeeding, and my arms were adjusting to carrying a newborn around all day. I remember wondering if I would ever feel normal again, which sounds a little dramatic but at this point, everything felt unknown.
When you're pregnant, you know the end result is a baby. You don't know exactly how that baby will arrive, whether by vaginal birth or C-section, whether early, on time, or late, or whether naturally or induced. But you know that baby's coming out one way or another! What I didn't realize was how much unknown would be involved in my first postpartum experience.
Would it always hurt to pee? Would my boobs always be uncomfortable from now on? Would the damage from my daughter's tongue tie ever fully heal? How long until I can comfortably walk longer distances? What's the difference between postpartum depression & baby blues? I had been put on blood pressure medication after needing to be induced for high blood pressure, and when my levels didn't go down after those first few weeks, I wondered if I'd always need to be on medication. There was so much unknown, and even though countless people reassured me that yes I would heal, and yes my boobs would feel normal one day, and yes my blood pressure would go down, it's one of those things where unless you've experienced it, it's hard to know for sure. And I'm sure the hormones didn't help with my naturally worst case scenario thinking.
I remember feeling much more comfortable and "myself" when I was around other people. Some people prefer to cocoon and stay isolated for a bit after having a baby, but for me I craved company and visitors. I loved having people over, and I really loved having my mom stay with us for a bit. It helped break up the routine, and socializing helped me focus on all the exciting and positive thoughts in my head. It was when the night hit when isolation and baby blues would surface, which I now know is extremely common & normal. I remember feeling a general sense of heaviness as the sun would set, like night time meant being alone with my feelings. Every night I would countdown the hours / feedings until 5AM passed, then I'd feel a rush of energy and excitement that came with a new day. Daylight would bring with it a flood of all the positive emotions, and nighttime seemed to do the opposite.
In those early weeks, I switched off between our rocker, couch and bed. I would have one breastfeeding position that felt semi-natural, and I'd stick with it for a few weeks until a new one would feel a little more natural. At some point, I stopped needing to use the hospital grade underwear and ginormous pads. Eventually, it stopped hurting to pee. My boobs no longer felt crazy uncomfortable from engorgement. I could actually enjoy a hot shower. After a few weeks, my blood pressure went back into normal range and I was able to stop taking the medication. We got Hannah's tongue tie revised, and the damage to my boobs finally healed (after 10 looong weeks). The nights gradually stopped feeling as intense.
At some point, I started feeling like myself again. And not just myself emotionally, but physically too. Both of those things took time.
When I saw that couple at the zoo, I felt so much compassion for them. I may not know exactly what they're going through because we all experience becoming parents differently, but I can empathize with the intensity of it all.
I could have sat with them and talked to them for hours, but I recognized that not everyone wants to sit and have a deep heart to heart with a stranger (shocking, I know). Instead, I looked at my big beautiful 10 month old girl, and looked back at them. "It gets better," I said.
And it does. Whatever struggle you face in the postpartum period, it gets better. Breastfeeding gets easier. Your body heals. You eventually will get more sleep. The hormones feel less crazy. And as all of those things settle down, one thing amplifies: your love for your child.