Recovering From Birth Can Feel Traumatic

Lessons in Parenthood: Week 14

I feel adequately recovered from birth to be able to talk about this. Not so much physically recovered as emotionally. There’s really no absolute way to know how your birth and postpartum journey will be. Every woman and every birth is different. My first and second births were dramatically different. From all the women I’ve talked to about their birth experiences, it’s very rare that two births are exactly alike. In fact, I can think of one woman who said that her two children came into the world exactly alike. That’s one out of dozens I’ve talked to and hundreds I’ve read. From all these birth stories you can get an idea of what your own experiences will be like, but it’s no guarantee. What makes it all the more unpredictable is our social and cultural taboos that prevent us from talking about all the details of birth and postpartum. Another reason why I think that sharing our stories and all the things we think of as “embarrassing” is so important.

I’ve always looked at birth realistically, but positively. Even if something was really hard or seemingly awful, I would rather talk about it plainly and not talk about it fearfully or go into dramatic gore. It’s not a healthy mindset for birth and it’s not a kind way to share experiences with other expecting mothers. That said, I am a researcher by nature so I wanted to know all the details and possibilities. I read through forums and blogs and books about birth. For my first birth I read all about birth and postpartum. For my second pregnancy, I thought I knew what to expect, but the pregnancy from start to finish was dramatically different. I also thought that I knew what kind of postpartum experience to expect. Yes, it might be more difficult the second time around because now I’ll have a toddler and a baby, but in my mind nothing was as bad as being enormously pregnant so I could handle whatever came with postpartum. Plus, I believed that because I would have my husband home to help and that we would have our little family time all to ourselves for the first two weeks, things would just flow. I was wrong. And I don’t know that reading anyone’s stories would have thoroughly prepared me because, again, your own experience will always be different. I underestimated one major factor: hormones.

I don’t know that there is any way to accurately describe this to anyone who hasn’t actually been through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Hormones are not something we regularly talk about or take into consideration when we think of our health and emotions. However, they play a major role all throughout the phases of child-bearing. I think whenever I felt like I was completely out of control I had to remind myself that it was just hormones. In pregnancy and after birth for many days, a woman’s hormones are skyrocketing. They play an important role and healthy hormone levels are essential, but they can leave you feeling like your world is beginning and ending every 2 seconds. It’s like you are losing your mind and you know it and you can’t do anything about it. It’s slightly terrifying. For the first few days after birth I would cry from joy and overwhelming gratitude. I felt radiant love swell up inside me and then tears would just fall like rain. Then in the same day I would feel so overwhelmed and sad that I would try to remove myself to where I could just weep privately because I didn’t want to disturb anyone. The hardest part of that was that I didn’t know why I was sad. I tried to pinpoint it, but all I could think was that I felt overwhelmed. In reality, there were many reasons.

Even though this birth was much easier than my first and I was feeling physically much better, I was still in pain. There’s something mentally exhausting about coping with pain for days on end. My afterpains, or the contractions after birth that help the uterus to return to its normal size, were much more painful and continued for several days after birth. The engorgement from my milk coming in was painful. My nipples hurt like hell, one side in particular from a bad latch. Every time Leia latched on it was like a lightening bolt to the groin for the first minute. Add that to the general discomfort of your body healing and overall exhaustion from lack of sleep. It’s a lot for your brain to handle on top of the tidal waves of hormones during through your body.

Then there was the motherhood aspect of recovery. Olivia had been my whole world and now I found myself having to divide my attention between her and Leia. I was never afraid that I wouldn’t love Leia as much because I knew how my love had grown when Olivia was born without diminishing for Luka. Something in me trusted my love would grow. However, this was different. This wasn’t a question of love, it was time and attention. I wasn’t able to give Olivia either in the way I had been able to before. There were times when she wanted me and I had to say no because Leia needed me and I obviously can’t ignore the newborn. That really destroyed me. Of all my postpartum experiences so far, that has been the most difficult. I worried that Olivia would feel unloved, rejected, less important. My worries were not unwarranted either as Olivia was not herself. I knew that there would be a time of adjustment for her, but I didn’t expect it to be so difficult on her. She was emotionally fragile. One moment she was laughing and happy and the next she was sobbing and screaming. A lot like me when I think of it. What worried me the most was that she had developed a stutter. At first I thought it was just her brain working between two languages, but it came evident that it wasn’t so much about language as it was how her stress was manifesting. This made me feel like an even more horrible mother.

Through all of this I tried to remind myself that this was all normal. Everything was OK and in time we would be just fine. I didn’t always believe it and it didn’t always make sense, but I kept telling myself that anyway. Luka was an enormous help. I didn’t think I would ever manage without him. In fact, the idea of him leaving me alone was terrifying. It nearly sent me into an anxiety attack. How will I ever cope? I felt pathetic, defeated, inept. And I have loads of baby experience! I expected more from myself! But, again, hormones. We have no idea how our unique body and mind will react to these massive changes until we actually go through them. We tend to put this expectation on ourselves that we should go through these transitions in life like it’s no big deal when in reality it’s challenging and difficult. And that’s OK.

Postpartum wasn’t without it’s wonderful moments. Despite all her struggles, Olivia loved her baby sister from the very beginning. Leia is a beautiful and interactive newborn who just melts our hearts. Luka has been able to spend more time with Olivia than ever before. We watched movies in bed all together. We cuddled together every morning. We had more family time than ever before. These moments recharged my batteries, filled me with love and happiness, and made the difficult moments fade from memory. Gradually I felt better and less overwhelmed. I physically felt stronger and was able to mentally cope with stress instead of just crumbling into a pool of tears. Olivia had less meltdowns and her stutter resolved itself.

Maybe after reading this you can understand why the first few weeks of postpartum can feel rather traumatic. Maybe you can relate from your own experiences. These are the less glorious moments of motherhood. It’s not fun or cool to admit you aren’t handling it all like a boss babe. However, I feel that they are extremely important to share with one another. We need to know that we all fall apart it’s nothing to hide. It doesn’t make you a bad mom or a bad person, it makes you human. Sharing it with others doesn’t mean you’re complaining, it means you’re being vulnerable and brave. While reading my experiences won’t tell you exactly how your own will be, maybe it can help you get the feeling that you’re not alone. You aren’t the only one. You aren’t crazy. Whatever you are feeling, it’s OK. You’re a great parent as long as you keep doing your best (and some days your best will be better than other days).

Share your experiences with other moms and parents. You don’t have to go off on a rant on your family, but you don’t have to sugar coat it either. Be real, be you. What have you found most difficult? What has been easier than you imagined? What took you by surprise? How long were you recovering? Did you have Postpartum Depression? Did you have baby blues? Did you have expectations for yourself? Did others have expectations for you? I would love to hear your ups and downs so that we all become better together.