The Post Partum Mommy
It’s 2am. I’m in the hospital with my newborn. I’m exhausted. I should be sleeping. But I’m not. I’m not because, as with every delivery, a weird cocktail of excitement and worry runs through my veins like caffeine despite the hours I spent in the intense, physical exertion of labor and the sleepless night that preceded it. I lay there with my baby in the clear bassinet next to my hospital bed and I tell my body, “Be quiet. Go to sleep. Relax.” But then I need to pop up just one second to make sure she is breathing. Or she made a noise and I want to know what it means. Or I just want to look at her because as always, I can’t believe that something so perfect and beautiful just came out of me. She is a treasure and I don’t want to waste my time sleeping when I could be holding her. But I have to sleep or I can’t take care of her. Also, I think I’m starting to get delirious.
There is nothing quite like having a newborn baby. They are tiny, and cuddly, and oh so cute. They make adorable, twisty faces and tiny mewing squeaks and cries. They sleep for hours (during the day, at least) making snuggle time so easy. And oh, the cuddles…the cuddles are so priceless as you rub your face against their feather soft hair and inhale the scent of your baby. It’s intoxicating. It’s perfect. And it’s a good thing, too, because all that is post partum does not glitter. It is not all rainbows and fairy dust. It is not all sweet snuggles and newborn hair.
Being a post partum Mommy is very difficult.
First, there is the drop of hormones. Starting with the shivers during and right after your delivery, those hormones that kept the baby safe during pregnancy leave your body and play with your emotions like a ping pong ball. It’s like PMS on steroids, which is enough to make you a monster your husband may not even recognize.
Then there is the exhaustion. Sheer exhaustion that cannot be explained. You’re constantly drawing from the sleep bank without making any deposits. You’ve come to a place where you brag to your husband that you actually got two whole hours of sleep last night, and a 20 minute nap the day before, so you feel so much more refreshed than yesterday! (This is madness…) Couple your severe moodiness with exhaustion and you are a lethal weapon when crossed. You have short, mean quips for everyone and you burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Personally, I feel like a Snickers commercial all the time—you know the one where your best friend turns into a Diva until fed a snickers bar? Except I run on anything with calories. And sleep. Lots of sleep.
There are the baby blues. Meaness and exhaustion compounded by what is varying degrees of depression and unexplained sadness that makes a new mom feel abandoned, alone, desolate, and completely overwhelmed with the task of raising and keeping alive this tiny human(s). This can last for days or even months. It feels so real, that it doesn’t matter that it is hormone, exhaustion, and circumstance induced. It is real. Your beautiful world full of a perfect, new human, feels like it is falling apart. And you feel guilty that you aren’t on cloud nine. You should be loving every minute of this…shouldn’t you?
Most of us have stitches too. If you had a C section, the stitches take a lot longer to heal, and I’ve heard that there is lots of other accompanying pain. If you had a vaginal birth, you may be one of the lucky ones to escape without stitches (because it is possible), but you probably didn’t so you have to somehow carve time out to have a sitz bath three times a day and manage a way to nurse even though you can’t sit down. I don’t know about you, but when the baby is sleeping…FINALLY!!!…I either want to catch up on my sleep or I want to do a couple of things around the house. I don’t really want to sit on a sitz bath for 15 minutes.
Then there is the engorgement. I think this happens even if you don’t nurse. All of a sudden, the breasts that already grew in size during pregnancy, grow again giving you upper backaches and turning your boobs into something the consistency of a mannequin. If you nurse, your nipples will ache. They say that it’s not supposed to hurt if you’re doing it right and that may be my problem, but I’ve heard that your nipples can be tender even with a perfect latch. My kids never latch on right. Especially my daughters. Despite how much textbook knowledge I have about a good latch and how the lips should flare out and cover most of the areola and the nipple should be aimed at the top of the mouth…my newborns don’t care about textbooks and they latch how they want no matter how hard I try to get them to open, open, open wide! So…my nipples ache and every nursing session feels like knives going through my lady parts.
I say lady parts because, oh the cramping that happens in the first week every time you nurse—especially with second and third pregnancies. At first, it feels like you’re going into labor again, which is a hard pill to swallow mere minutes or even just an hour after the labor pains finally ended. At it’s best, these cramps feel like you’re getting your period. Of course, this is when you are finally allowed an ibuprofen so at least you can take something that might actually make a dent in the pain.
You’re constantly nursing (or mixing and feeding formula). It’s not two hours between feedings, it’s two hours between the BEGINNING of one feeding and the beginning of the next. Which means you may have an hour to yourself if she lets you put her down instead of needing to be held, changed, and held some more. All you want to do is have one moment to yourself to pee and maybe grab a coffee and a hot pocket because you missed breakfast and you’re so hungry because of all the nursing, but she wants to be held constantly. It makes sense since just days ago she was being held constantly within the solace of your womb.
Then there’s the pooping. No matter how many times you've given birth and how many times your doctor or midwife tells you that those stitches will hold, your first poop brings back terrifying memories of pushing the baby out. I’ve done it with an epidural and without, and I’ll tell you that pooping after vaginal delivery is scary either way. After my first delivery, I had to go to the OB/GYN days after delivery with my tail between my legs and report that I hadn’t pooped yet and I couldn’t even sit up straight from the abdominal cramping it caused me. Stool softener, lots of water, and an enema did the trick and taught me my lesson. I’ve forced myself to poop that first time with the subsequent pregnancies so as to avoid a repeat performance of that embarrassment and pain.
If you nurse, you are SO THIRSTY. AND HUNGRY. If you thought pregnancy was bad, this is ten times worse. The minute you eat or drink, the calories and fluids are sucked out of you by your tiny human. I feel like a hobbit when I’m nursing because I have breakfast, then second breakfast, then elevenses, then luncheon…you get the picture.
Your jeans. They don’t fit. And you still look pregnant but your belly is floppy. And did I mention the ginormous boobs? It may seem like the latter is an asset, but try sleeping on those babies. If your newborn actually falls asleep, you still may not be able to because you can’t find a way to sleep around the painful melons that are attached to your chest. And you may wake up in puddles of milk, so you’ll have to pump. And change the sheets. All this at 3am when you know that your baby will be awake in less than an hour and you really need to sleep so you don’t bite your poor husband’s head off.
Speaking of husbands…how does he sleep like that? Why can’t he hear the baby’s every gurgle, hiccup, and squeak like you can? And when she screams? Really? He’s still sleeping through that? It’s enough to make you want to bop him on the head repeatedly. You already have to be the one to wake up and feed the baby so, for goodness sake, can’t he at least be the one to change the diapers? Or replace the fallen pacifier? Or rock her for five minutes when she still hasn’t fallen asleep after nursing? You just. want. to. sleep. PLEASE. Please just sleep, baby…
And then, morning dawns again, the tears and the sleepless night are temporarily over, the sun is streaming through the windows once more and your baby opens her eyes at you. YOU. Because you are her world. And then, you know it is all worth it. Your crazy moods. Your saggy body. The exhaustion and pain. The hunger. The stitches. The painful boobs and tender nipples and the fact that sometimes you feel like a glorified cow. You would do it over and over and over again for her even though sometimes you don’t feel the blissful love every mother is supposed to feel. She’s worth it. And you pick her up and happily brace yourself for the new day because even though it’s going to be full of those painful, uncomfortable, emotional things that you never imagined could be part of motherhood, she is worth it. And you love her. And if she wants you and needs you to snuggle her and nurse her all day long, so be it. Somehow, you will find the strength.