Today marks 6 months postpartum. In three months or so, I will be post-pregnant for as long as I was pregnant (9+ months), and this will be Em’s “boomerang” birthday (9 months in, 9 months out). Over the past two months, I have felt relatively like my old self, though my life AND my body will never truly be back to “normal.” Something radical took place and I have the unkempt hair, stretchmarks and dark circles under my eyes to show for it. I’m still functioning with (what can only be) an impossibly small amount of uninterrupted sleep each night — but I’m functioning. I guess that’s the gist of it. I’m functioning, I’m functioning! That’s my postpartum, postcolic victory cry.
All that to say, the postpartum “4th trimester” is no joke. Yes, your body does go absolutely nuts when you are pregnant, as I’ve carefully detailed in two previous posts. But the nuttiness continues even AFTER the babe is out, particularly in those first few weeks. Consider this third installment in the series the postpartum edition. Here are some observations on the changes my body (and brain) have gone through these past few months. *Birth and recovery are messy and the following might be gross. You’ve been warned.*
1) Bleeding – Before I gave birth, I read lots of funny accounts of “the period that lasts 6 weeks” and the need for “gigantic pads the size of rafts.” This is no joke. Right after giving birth, the bed, the floor (and the midwife) look like set props in a horror film. Every time you get up out of bed, another wave of blood rushes out. Every time you go to the bathroom, you are tempted to call 911. You’ve been without your period for 10 months. This is pay back. After the first week or two, things slowed down, but I didn’t stop bleeding daily until my 10th week, if you can believe it.
2) Pain – For some reason, I was not anticipating this. Yes, labor and delivery would bring their fair share of discomfort, but once the baby is out, all’s good, right? For those women who have C-sections, the pain of the incision can last for weeks and weeks. It is major surgery after all. But one of the (supposed) nice things about vaginal birth is quick recovery time. This is true, but you will still feel like “a mac truck drove through your vagina”, in the words of my sister. I suffered a 2nd-degree tear (OUCH) which involved stitches (“This will feel like a bunch of bee stings,” said my midwife) and pretty constant pain whenever sitting or standing. I was anti-medicine during pregnancy, but I was popping hospital grade Tylenol like candy those first few days in recovery.
3) Floating organs – I don’t know how else to describe this. Upon delivery, and for a week or two afterwards, it felt like my organs were swimming around my body, no longer cramped by my expanded uterus. Once that baby is out, there’s about 2 feet of extra space inside of you, and your kidneys, liver, stomach, lungs try to settle back in place without the help of your stomach muscles (which are like mush). Every time I rolled over in bed, I felt something shift and it wasn’t awesome-feeling. Some women wear a hilariously-named “postpartum girdle” to help everything get back in place. I mainly just clutched my torso and hoped my spleen would stay put.
4) Phantom baby movement – Up until this past month, I had the strange sensation of feeling baby movement, all while staring at my daughter (outside of my body) on the changing table. Some of it could have been organs floating back in place (see #3) but some of it was psychological, I’m sure. At night, I would place my hand on my stomach and swear I felt the baby kick, which of course I didn’t. Pregnancy is so gradual. It takes nearly 10 months to grow a human being, and your body changes profoundly, but incrementally, over that time frame. What seems initially so strange (feeling a human being inside of you) because completely normal and a source of comfort during those later stages in pregnancy. The abruptness of one day being pregnant and the next day not is a lot for the mind to comprehend.
5) Breast changes – Sigh. This one is hard. It’s pregnancy that changes your breast, not breastfeeding. So, all those celeb mommies who choose not to breastfeed their progeny to “save” their breasts still have (or had, before they had surgery) saggy, stretch-mark-ridden breasts like the rest of us. I take comfort in that. My breasts became giant, hard and angry during pregnancy and even more giant and angry postpartum as my milk came in. But, over time, things have evened out, though my right breast is substantially larger than my left (because I nurse E more on my right than my left out of habit — woops). Now, they are not so giant, but definitely changed, saggy and a little sad. But of course, as a feminist, I know that breasts not for sexual display but for sustaining my child and I should be in friggin’ AWE about that. Which I am. See #6.
6) Changed conception of breasts – For the first time in my life, these things I’ve been caring around on my chest all these years are actually being put to use. Imagine if some seemingly extraneous, ornamental part of your body suddenly took on a functional purpose — like your earlobes grew long and floppy in order to protect your shoulders from sunburn or shoo away flies. Weird imagine and not a great parallel (earlobes aren’t sexualized). But you get what I’m saying. My relationship with my breasts have changed. They are no longer a source of shame or ornamentation They are a source of food. And my child has ONLY eaten that food since she came out of the womb, and in doing so, has more than doubled her weight. THAT’S AMAZEBALLS. Most of my close friends, my family (including my father and father-in-law) and the mailman (woops) have seen my breasts. I spent the first two weeks at home basically shirtless (why wear a shirt when you are going to be feeding every 45 minutes anyway?). I have very little shame when it comes to nursing in public (I’ve used an offensively-named breastfeeding cover only 3 times). My sister and I have shared stories about actually forgetting that our breasts were exposed while out shopping or answering the door. They have become like elbows. And I would love it if societal attitudes towards breasts could change, too — this would make breastfeeding so much easier.
7) Sleep deprivation – Here are some things NOT to say to an already insomnia-ridden pregnant lady: “Sleep now while you still can.” Or to a new parent: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Both are bullshit, no offense nice, well-meaning folk. I COULD NOT SLEEP while I was pregnant. And as a new mother, even with 30 hours of sleeplessness through labor and delivery, I still COULD NOT SLEEP. The adrenaline, the terror of having to take care of a small, helpless human, the knowledge that when you shut your eyes your baby will jolt you awake with a horrific shriek — all combine together to make you a sleepless mess. We opted to have E taken to the nursery the second night so we could catch at least 2 hours of shut-eye. That 2 hour chunk was the longest I slept, and would sleep, for the next three weeks. You think I’m exaggerating. I would have thought I was exaggerating pre-baby. But horror of horrors, I am not. I told my dad today that, when people joked about new parents not getting any sleep, I thought they meant only getting 5 hours of night. But Dave and I suffered through some hellish months of 2-4 hours of sleep per 24 hour period. Some days I could function, but most days I was a wreck. I took pictures of myself on my most sleep-deprived days, just so I could cherish the memory (see below). I still have not gotten a full night’s sleep for more than a year, but I am sleeping about 6 hours a night, waking up at 11, 12, 1, 2 or 3 to feed the babe and then up at 6 or 7am. I can’t believe this is my life.
8) Hair loss – I was amazed when my hair stopped falling out in pregnancy. It’s a definite pregnancy perk. About 3 months post partum, my hair started falling out in clumps. It still is. It clogs the drain. It gets wrapped around E’s fingers and toes. It coats the carpet. It’s all over my clothing. Everywhere. It doesn’t help that my daughter absolutely loves yanking my hair out with her vice-like grasp. My hair doesn’t look noticeably different, besides being totally unkempt all the time, but I hear some women actually get bald spots. Yikes.
Welp, that’s it for now. I’m sure I have a Post Partum Edition #2 in me, which will include things like 1) not being grossed out by baby poop, 2) not giving a rat’s ass about drinking while breastfeeding and 3) showering only once a week (this was not really a post partum change) and 4) eating only rice, turkey and pears because you found blood in your baby’s diaper. Stay tuned.