Caroline was six weeks old on Thursday. According to the pregnancy books, my postpartum period has ended. I’ve experienced a lot during these recent weeks. Of everything I’ve read about the postpartum period, the most helpful article came from the most unexpected place.
About two weeks after she was born, I was given a Lamaze Parents 2006 magazine by the visiting nurse. Most of it was, naturally, about childbirth. I almost didn’t even bother looking through it, but I did – just in case there was something really good. There was an article entitled “Straight Talk for New Parents” by Kathryn McGrath about the first six weeks postpartum. I’ve tried to find the article online, but with no success. The magazine is put out by www.ivillage.com. I am hoping they won’t mind if I quote extensively here since it is such a good article.
Six Weeks Postpartum – Realistically
I think what I appreciated the most is that it was a realistic look at the postpartum period. They said things that you don’t usually find mentioned elsewhere. In fact, if you read enough pregnancy websites, you start to realize how much they all plagiarize each other. There is very little unique content from site to site – they all say pretty much the same thing.
So here are a few truths I experienced during my postpartum period. I put them on my website in hopes that they might be a timely word for another new mom sometime in the future. As the article says:
Research shows that parents who anticipate the changes realistically fare much better than those who don’t.
In random order…
Recovering from childbirth takes longer than six weeks.
A four- to six-week recovery period is unrealistic for the majority of women. The truth is, your physical and emotional recovery should be thought of in terms of months rather than weeks.
Thank you very much! I’m a little tired of these “I felt great and went to Walmart eight hours after my twins were born” stories I see. Thank you for a more realistic approach to the reality of what many women face.
Your baby’s birth is not the end of your pregnancy experience.
And you thought it was over in nine months. Actually, some of your most important work takes place after childbirth – mulling it over in your mind, making sense of what happened and matching what you felt on the inside with what other people saw on the outside. The greater the discrepancy between what you expected and what you got, the tougher this task will be.
It’s very important that you have supportive people around you (starting with your partner) who will listen to your birth story nonjudgementally – as many times as you need to tell it. By reviewing the experience with someone else, you can better understand it yourself and successfully move on to other issues of mothering.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, especially this, I think it should be fairly obvious why that section meant a lot to me.
With change, there is loss.
We’re all aware of the indescribably wonderful joys that come with having a new baby: There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a sweet-smelling newborn nuzzle into your neck. But the birth of a baby also brings some necessary losses – your lifestyle, freedom and income. The appropriate reaction to loss is grief, and the only way to get to the other side of it is to move through it. Our culture tends to shun new parents who express any sadness. We tell parents they should feel only joy and gratitude, but this doesn’t make any sense. Having a baby is no doubt the biggest life adjustment you will every make; it’s only natural that you’ll feel emotions from both ends of the spectrum. Instead, be honest with yourself and acknowledge the losses, ambivalence and moments of regret. It’s part of letting go and moving on.
This was one of the most helpful things I read. Not because I didn’t know it was true, but because it was just helpful to see it written down in print. Somehow seeing things written down makes them more real. Not to go all psychological here, but it validates what you feel. I’ve had a lot of people make comments to me about how happy we must be, how thrilled we must be to have Caroline, etc. And they are all right. We are happy. We are thrilled. We’re very grateful. But we’ve also been going through this grieving process as well.
Ironically, it has been some of the small things that have hit me the hardest. We knew about the “big” adjustments and had prepared as best we could for those. What I wasn’t prepared for was doing the dishes during my fifth week postpartum and starting to sob as though my heart was breaking. David (who was feeding Caroline at the time in the other room) heard me and came to ask me what was wrong. And what was wrong? I missed doing the dishes with David. I wash and he dries. We’ve done this pretty much every night since we were dating and he would come over after work for dinner. Ten years of that has been disrupted and it was hard to adjust to. I missed talking with him and doing this daily activity together.
I think it is also hard to be honest about any sadness you feel because a lot of people will write it off as hormonal or they will think you are awfully ungrateful to have received a baby from God and not be just totally and completely grateful and happy. Kind of the equivalent to “eat your peas because there are children starving in Africa” only in this case it is “don’t you know there are thousands of women who would chop off their right arm to have a baby like you have so don’t you dare express any unhappiness”. I know this is the case because when I wrote my birth story someone left a comment telling me how insensitive, ungrateful and self-absorbed I am. (Yes, I deleted it.)
Anyway, I appreciated someone else saying that no matter how very happy you may be with your new baby, you can also be grieving for other things lost in the process and it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you normal. So those are some of the things I’ve experienced. I’m grateful whenever God leads me to something helpful, usually in writing. We love Caroline to pieces and are so thankful for her. But we also continue to make adjustments in life – sometimes easily and sometimes with difficulty. And I know we’ll be continuing to do that until… well, forever.