Everyone can agree that pregnancy is a daunting experience. Forty weeks can feel like a lifetime punctuated by vast bodily changes that vary from exciting to downright miserable. It’s a marathon, and the finish line is a successful birth, followed by a celebration of sweet baby snuggles and heart-swelling moments. But what we often fail to realize is that there is a second leg to our race of motherhood. The postpartum period of childbirth is an endurance race fraught with hurdles that can seem insurmountable.
Here are just a few of the barriers I had to face and the ways that I sought to overcome them.
It takes much longer for our bodies to recover than the postpartum appointment implies.
Four weeks after my c-section, I went to my doctor’s office and underwent an exam. She said everything “looks great.” And she released me for “normal activity” (the most loaded phrase in the history of mankind) after another two weeks. But I didn’t feel “great” at that four-week appointment. And I didn’t feel “normal” after another two weeks. In fact, I felt off. The best way to describe it is that I felt like a part of me had been removed forever. Oh, wait. It had! Throw in sleep deprivation and caring for a newborn and a four-year-old, and I was a mess, more often than not.
But I think the biggest struggle of all was letting myself off the hook. I didn’t have to be back in the gym at six weeks just because I was “supposed” to be able to do it. I had to allow my body to heal and adjust on its own timeline, not an arbitrary pre-prescribed one.
Breast is not best for everyone.
I get the reasoning behind the “breast is best” movement. I understand the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and for the mother. But I also understand how difficult and painful the stigma is for mothers who can’t breastfeed or who simply choose not to. My first child was unable to nurse because he was born premature. I pumped for three months, and we bottle fed him. I nursed my second child for the first week of his life. And then I got a cold and my milk supply dried up almost overnight. With both of my children, my confidence withered under the “suggestions” and insinuations of those who were concerned that my babies weren’t getting what they needed.
I was fortunate to have my husband, along with others, who reminded me that breastfeeding is one thing in a host of things that I could give to my babies, and 99 out of 100 isn’t a bad score.
Returning to work is difficult.
I admire the heck out of moms who choose to stay at home with their children, but I have always known that I am not cut out to be one of those moms. Despite knowing that about myself and absolutely loving my job, I still had a hard time returning to work. As it turns out, the third day back to work was the toughest. That night after I got home, Ramsey was super fussy and try as I might, I could not get him to calm down. Pacifiers, songs, rocking, snuggles, headlocks (only half joking). Nothing would calm him down, and the more he fought me, the farther I sank into despair. I sat in his dimly lit bedroom, rocking him slowly as he cried, and I cried with him. I cried all of the tears that I had been holding for the last two days. And with those tears I faced my greatest fear: that I was not my baby’s person anymore.
There is no way to rationalize the irrational, but a good night’s sleep certainly helped. And after a few “wins” – nights when he slept like an angel in my arms and quieted at my voice – I realized that my constant presence was not what gave me his affection, and my temporary absence would not take it away.
Judgement lurks around every corner.
Real or imagined, the judgement I felt as a new mother was, at times, infuriating and crippling. People started out saying how great I looked after having a baby – words every new mother needs to hear. But I was astounded by how quickly this phrase was replaced with stolen glances at my ever-large-but-no-longer-pregnant belly. Regardless of their intent, those glances told me loud and clear that my just-had-a-baby grace period was over.
People would ask when I was returning to work, or some would even assume that I was not returning to work at all. When I told them I returned after seven weeks, they would say “that doesn’t seem like very long” or “gosh, that’s really soon.” Of course, what I heard was “why are you such a bad mom?” and “you must not really love your baby.”
Ridiculous? Yes. True? Absolutely. Again, the kindness of my support system gave me the confidence I needed to navigate these difficult waters.
Now, almost five months after the birth of my child, I am still running the race of postpartum recovery.
I’m not sure when things become “normal,” but I’m guessing the answer is never. In the motherhood marathon, we will always face new hurdles and may even come back around to old ones. So here’s hoping for the strength and agility to clear our obstacles with as much grace and agility as we can muster. And for some stretches of pure cross-country so that we can enjoy the view.