Postpartum is hard. I feel like I’ve said or written that sentence thousands of times. But it is – and it’s something that you don’t fully comprehend ’till you’re there. I was given fair warning regarding pregnancy. The sickness, the acne, the rage. Oh wait until you’re nine months and wanna rip the head off of everyone who shares the same air as you. Swollen ankles, bigger feet. And indeed, my pregnancy was for the most part, terrible. Despite all the fellow mammas-to-be commiserating with me over our shared misery while housing ANOTHER HUMAN LIFE, no one really told me the harder thing would be afterwards.
I spent the first three months of my post-labor time mostly in a haze. I knew labor would be challenging, and it was in an obvious kind of way. I got lucky with my birth given it was at home, and relatively short. An astounding midwife and a kick ass husband/mother birthing team, we nailed it. But then afterwards, hormones kick into over drive while my body was trying to readjust after the car crash it just endured. I remember being scared to pee. And terrified to poop. After crowning I never wanted to use my lower half again, in any capacity. Pushing or otherwise. I was given two stitches from my midwife – something I was more scared to go through than labor itself. She left me with this dinky plastic squirt bottle and told me to use that when I peed instead of toilet paper. If the water wasn’t warm it was like razor blades on an already tender vagina, which nearly ripped in half after passing a massive human head. The first three days I didn’t leave puppy training pads, despite having already delivered my placenta, it seemed like I was delivering a second one. One that took 8 – yes you heard that right – 8 fucking weeks to finish. I couldn’t sit for an extended period of time because I was so, so sore. My belly was still engorged but soft. While I revelled in my suddenly empty body, I looked at the extra skin and stretch marks and wondered if I would ever look like myself again, or just the left over shell of my amazingly perfect daughter.
Everything leaks. Your eyes, your nipples, your vagina. I felt like a sleep-deprived slave. The whole world turned off as my entire focus went into this perfect, tiny baby. This little being. She chose me to be her mamma, what a gift. I was overwhelmed with love, and also with raging rivers of anxiety regarding her general well being. It was rare if I peed alone – what if she spit up and needed me – a bloody miracle if I got a shower. I was starving 100% of the time. Constantly breastfeeding left me feeling malnourished and I couldn’t get food into me fast enough. Cluster feeding landed me on the couch for days at a time slamming granola bars and coffee trying to keep up with my baby’s demand for nourishment. I have no. Idea. How single mothers do it. My husband was (and still is) an absolute rock. Gathering snacks, fetching the remote, helping me get the baby to latch, and telling me I was doing a great job.
For the first few weeks I got visitors frequently. People offering to bring a meal, watch the baby so I could shower, hold her so that I could put lanolin on my chaffed and blistered nipples. I felt like we were sitting Shiva but with less death. But much like … well… grief, the visiting came to a slow and I found myself alone most of the time, trying to figure it out, and crying A LOT. Stuck between friends who don’t have kids yet and friends who are past having children, it’s a space of solitude I was (well, am) trying to figure out how to occupy.
Tragedy struck when breast feeding wasn’t the god damn miracle everyone made it out to be. You expect it to just work and that small animals from the forest will emerge and sing to you but it’s actually really hard. The first few days brought me blisters and chaffing, then a bit after that, clogged ducts. I cried constantly because my body wasn’t showing up for me in the way I wanted it to, needed it to. This was my job. I’m the mamma, I have the milk. Why isn’t this working? I succumbed to an aggressive pumping schedule, one that made it near impossible to leave the house without huge fits of anxiety. After all I had to be home in time to pump or I’d screw up my supply and therefore not be able to feed my baby. Lucky for me, I was provided with a network of support. A clinic offered me a safe haven to cry in frustration. Why wouldn’t she latch? Why do my tits hurt so fucking much? I just wanna sleep on my belly again… I just wanna sleep again…
But, eventually we figured it out. She’s a champion breast feeder now. We’re no longer enslaved to a pump, and we’ve officially weaned off prescription drugs to help me boost my milk supply. (All my fellow mammas told me it would get better, and it did) But now I’m usually alone. My days mostly consist of keeping track of wake times, breastfeeding every hour, wondering if I’m failing her as a mother because we nurse to sleep, wondering if I should try harder to get her to take a pacifier. Wondering if I’ll ever have the time to do my hair again. Wondering if I’ll have the time to do, well, anything again. Panicking about going back to work and leaving her even though that doesn’t happen till June 2020. Sweating while walking down the stairs with her because all I can envision is me falling with her in my arms and her smashing her head on the floor. Taking corners with her really wide because again I’m scared she’s going to smash her head. Drinking coffee far away from her so that I don’t spill on her. Trying not to forget about myself. Trying not to forget about my marriage. Remembering to pet the animals once in a while. Obsessing over what kind of baggage I haven’t dealt with and need to or I’ll pass it on to her. Wondering if what I’m experiencing is normal, or I have PPA, PPD, or god forbid PPP. Trying to learn the seemingly million things to know about babies and baby crap, including the endless list of things that contribute to SIDS. Feeling guilty for feeling anything other than pure joy for this gift I had just been given.
A thousand things. By myself. Like living with a mute roommate. One you love more than anything, but in some ways, wondering what now? Nap, change diaper, sing baby shark for the 300th time, try and squeeze dishes in, maybe shower, scramble to put dinner together because you totally forgot again, try not to inundate the husband with too many words the second he walks in the door. But mostly just try and be a good mom, which has so much more weight than I gave it credit for, and which has made me fall in love with my own mother, all over again. When my mamma was pregnant with me, she was also pregnant with my eggs. Two whole lives lived inside my mamma, what a gift to finally meet the other life.
So. To all those parents I gave unsolicited parenting advice to before I had children of my own. Holy fuck. What an asshole I was. I see you, and I see how hard some days are, I see the person you are beyond your title of parent, and I love you.