Since having my first baby 4 weeks ago a few friends have asked what the most difficult part of postpartum is. It's a question that has helped me process and gain perspective during this new, foggy and exhausting time — and to appreciate it more.
1. My Body
52 pounds of weight gain on my original 135 pound frame, tiger stripes, a stomach with deep skin indentations that looks like I'm 5 months pregnant are all really difficult things to come to terms with. Clothes no longer are fun and interesting, but a source of inner exhaustion. I try to avoid looking in the mirror most days to avoid an emotional meltdown and not bring out thoughts of hatred toward myself.
I don't want to go outside because people will see me and having visitors can sometimes invoke the same instinct to hide. Despite this I find baby and I are always refreshed after time outside and visits with friends. Sometimes friends can be more gentle and kind to us than we can to ourselves.
On a deeper level, my crotch stitches are healing from 4 tears, and my pelvic muscles feel incredibly tight and painful. The road to healing, getting in shape and dropping 50 pounds can often be incredibly overwhelming. I'm also scared of what I will look like at the end of it all. For more on this see "I Don't Love (or Like) My Postpartum Body — and That's OK".
After growing a baby and pushing it out of your body, sleep is one of the best things you could have — and the least of what you get. For me sleep is essential. I get even more emotional and irrational without it. People tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. But they also tell you to pump breast milk when the baby sleeps. And to shower and take care of yourself, presumably ... when the baby sleeps.
I'm not quite sure how to do all of those things AND sleep when the baby sleeps, so I mostly just pray my guts out that she will start sleeping through the night soon. And although tidying up is the "thing" people tell you to not do, I find it does amazing wonders for my mental health to have our home in order and clean. It's probably some sort of last grasping to have a semblance of control too and have something that feels and looks normal.
3. Fear and Anxiety
I've never struggled with more fear and anxiety in my life. I know this is fed by lack of sleep, constant care for another human, hormones, and this all being new experience after new experience into the unknown — forever. That can be overwhelming. It is slowly getting better as I repeat to myself "Do not fear" "Take a breath", and have a counseling appointment on the horizon.
I fear her crying in the car when I'm driving. I fear SIDS. I fear her getting sick and me not knowing how to handle it. I fear I'll crumble under the responsibility. I fear I won't have a good connection with my daughter. I fear juggling work again with a new baby. I fear not being able to go back to work if I don't find a nanny. I fear my husband seeing my body and thinking I'm unattractive and revolting. I fear I'll not lose the weight and that my breasts won't shrink.
My husband reminds me to follow the fear and anxiety beyond the initial thought — and it always ends up with me asking myself what the worst could happen is. In the end it will all be OK.
Enough said. Postpartum hormones are the WORST. You feel like you're spinning wildly out of control and the uncontrollable crying is seriously bizarre. By week 4 it seems they are tapering off each day, but I wonder how long it will take until they are rebalanced and functioning properly.
I've always been a pretty independent person. Not being able to schedule a massage, haircut, language or art class without consulting with my husband if he will be home makes me feel trapped. I used to take off and drive by myself to a destination for the day, or jump in the car and go somewhere for the weekend with my husband or a friend last minute. When your life suddenly revolves around feedings, diaper changes and sleep training, it can feel like spontaneity will never be a lifestyle again. I know we will adjust to this new schedule in time and find a new rhythm.
I miss my husband. And not because he's gone. He's at work and helping take care of our little girl, or out getting groceries for us. I miss snuggling with him on the couch in the evenings — most of the time he's entertaining or feeding our daughter, giving me a break from the day. I miss talking about adult things instead of deciding who is most exhausted for the night shift, or can make space in their schedule to bring our daughter to appointments.
I have grown to love, appreciate and savor my time with him even more since her birth.
With each new phase in life and moment that I think I can't go another second, strength is given and there is another sunset, sunrise, baby snuggles, tender touch, laughter, and glass of red wine — all things that make this little life of mine delicious.