Postpartum | Reality Check

The world of going from glowing and "great with child" to sleep deprivation and deflated body leaves even the most chipper of us in rough shape. While pregnant, you prepare in incredible ways - how to take care of your body; what kind of birth experience you want to have; what color should we paint the nursery?; cloth v. plastic?; the merits of different breast pumps; should baby be listening to more Mozart in utero?; more kegels!; how many newborn outfits should we bring to the hospital?; how in holy heck are we going to pay for all of this?!; and the list goes on. And on. And on. But there seems to be an awful lot we don't prepare for - something I found especially true after my babies were out.

You see, while we expect a great number of things, we are really only familiar with very few, very generalized postpartum sentiments. You expect sleep deprivation and a zombie-like existence for a few months. You expect a decreased sex drive - hugs are still on the table. You expect to not shower for a while and consequently smell like stale milk. You expect to be stressed out and in love with your new baby. But there are a great many things we don't talk about and are expected to learn on our own. Why? Why on earth aren't we indoctrinating soon-to-be-mommies into the reality they will be facing within a few short months?! I have no idea. There is no need for the amount of bewilderment we face alone, so let's just have a good ol' conversation about what actually happens after you push that baby out.

No. 1 Please allow me to shatter your illusions of leaving the hospital in your pre-pregnancy jeans. 

Some of you may very well be able to accomplish this feat, but let's lower your expectations for now so if it doesn't happen you won't be upset. Let's talk some facts: you just pushed a person out of your body. Your hips accommodated the entrance of a small - although doesn't feel so small - person. Your body made that possible! Another fact: your hips don't go back right away. But there is good news! Hips expanding = free pass to wear yoga pants indefinitely. I mean, til you bounce back. Or indefinitely, honestly. You earned that right.

Also, that tummy you've been growing for 9 months doesn't magically shrink to it's normal size in 1-3 days. It will look like dough. Dough, I tell you. And it will feel like jell-o because you haven't actually been able to use your abdominal muscles like a normal person. And that's OKAY. You will still look pregnant. Three-to-six months pregnant. If you were hooked up to any amount of saline during labor, you will most likely be bloated and swollen as well.

After we had Alice, JD and I took a walk around the hospital and a male nurse saw us and said "Oh! Any time now!" Poor, poor man. I honestly felt worse for him than I did for me because I knew I still looked 6 months pregnant while he was clueless that there was no longer a baby up in there. We let him in gently on our little secret and the look of shame on his face was almost humorous. I kept waddling around, looking as big as I felt, but honestly surprised that I was still as big as I was.

Also, your uterus is still very stretched out and actually has to "migrate" back to it's original position (not even kidding, my doctor called it migrating). This involves some pretty uncomfortable contractions/menstrual-like cramping, but nothing compared to the ordeal you just went through.

Onto...

No. 2 When I said wear yoga pants, make 'em black.

And consider disposable underwear. Or at least black underwear.

You will bleed and maybe even wonder if you are going to die from blood loss. There is so much blood. I wore the most gigantic pads in existence for weeks. Clots the size of walnuts. Not even kidding, it's a lot. Your uterus is tearing down and starting over but on a grander scale than your once a month cycle. Have boxes of the biggest, most absorbent pads you can get your hands on.

And while we're down there...

No. 3 You will be terrified of your first bowel movement.

Peeing stings. If you tore - which is pretty common - the thought of putting any sort of pressure on that tender, newly stitched area is harrowing. Cleansing with a peri-bottle of warm water, applying Tucks pads, and spraying with Dermaplast helps, but it's still gonna hurt when you poop. Especially because your body shuts that part down for a while - sometimes days. So not only is it sore, but there's a buildup. AND, if you weren't lucky, you probably now have hemorrhoids which make it feel like you're pooping shards of glass. Hooray! It gets better as you frequent the bathroom more, but it still hurts at first. And sometimes even later, hemorrhoids can flare up and make you wince - even 4 months later it surprises me and probably will til I die.

And while peeing doesn't really hurt, be prepared to have no control over your bladder, which leads me to...

No. 4 You will wear panty liners for the foreseeable future.

Much like the end of your pregnancy, bladder control is almost unattainable but for different reasons. When you're pregnant, you pee when you sneeze/laugh/cough/hiccup because there is a little person bearing down on the organ holding said liquid. However, after you have a baby, you pee at any given moment because the muscles that control it have been stretched to the max and aren't ship shape yet. Even now, almost 4 months after having Milo, I still have to wear them. I know, I know. Kegels are the answer. But who on earth remembers to do kegels?! Oh, right, me - but only when I accidentally wet my pants. Post-it note that reminder somewhere prominent, but discreet. (Is there such a place?) In the meantime, don't sweat it. Just wear a panty liner.

Speaking of sweat...

No. 5 You may sweat profusely for the first few weeks postpartum. 

To the point where you have to wash your sheets. Every single day. November was freezing here, but there I was, waking up in a pool of my own sweat multiple times a night. My hair was soaked. My clothes were soaked. Ick. I'm a shower-once-every-three-days kind of gal and that had to change real fast after we brought Milo home.

And even though I would wake up sweating, as soon as I would go to nurse Milo in his room, I'd be freezing. I had extreme sensitivity to both the cold and heat. My body wouldn't balance out - I was either frigid or boiling over. Must have been the hormones.

About hormones...

No. 6 You will cry for no reason at all.

There I was, walking down the peanut butter aisle at Target, Milo happily sleeping in his carseat in the cart, JD had taken Alice to get a free cookie at the front counter, and had I not been in public I would have just bawled. And I didn't even know why! Those first couple of weeks are so trippy. I was perfectly happy - Milo was relatively easy, I was getting plenty of sleep, Alice was adjusting pretty well, JD was helping, I was able to get projects done, but out of nowhere I would start to drown in waves of depression.

All of a sudden I would be consumed with hopelessness, helplessness, and who knows what and I don't even know why. One night I drove to Walgreens to get Milo some gripe water and I cried all the way there and all the way back and then some more in the garage after I had parked. Like, uncontrollable sobbing. What the heck is wrong with me?!!! Oh yeah, I had a baby and that does weird stuff to your hormones. At least that's what I'm calling it. I was not apathetic or discontent or angry or sad on the whole. It was just these moments when I would break down without a seemingly obvious cause.

It passed after a few weeks, but still left me feeling a little scared of how raw and sudden some of my extreme feelings were.

Other scary things?

No. 7 Breasts. They get bigger. And your nipples will be in agony if you breastfeed.

Should you breastfeed, it's going to take some getting used to. Your nipples are not accustomed to so much attention and friction and it takes a few weeks to desensitize. With Alice, mine cracked and bled. I wasn't a fan of the nipple cream out there, but have heard now that coconut oil is a great and safe alternative. Either way, don't give up if you're trying to breastfeed. The pain will subside after a while, but it may curl your toes for a while. Totally worth it in the long run.

At home, I usually lounge in a loose sports bra (never cared for the soft, sleep nursing bras) and my friend Leah gave me some wonderful cotton, reusable nursing pads. So much better than disposables! I would inevitably put the Lasinoh ones back in sticky-side to nipple and man than hurts when you realize your mistake a couple of hours later.

As to bigger breasts: some people might really enjoy this. I don't. When I married JD, I was a very comfortable 34C. Then I got pregnant with Alice; I entered 34D. Then I gave birth to Alice; wandered into 34DD. Then I got pregnant with Milo. Welcome to the Land of 34E. Dun dun dun. E! Aaaaaa! I don't want to be here. It's just too much. I don't like having to deal with boobs. Cleavage. Running (well, when I have to). Squishing them into shirts that used to fit perfectly before. Don't get me wrong, JD's not complaining, but I am. If I could have my Cs back I'd take them in an instant. I can't imagine them possibly getting any bigger, but if my track record proves consistent, I'll be devouring more of the alphabet if we make more babies. They're getting so unmanageable.

Here's the other problem with postpartum boobs: they're not just bigger - they move. Totally independent of my will. I always wondered back in my perfect-boob days how old women got saggy breasts. Now I know. They fill up with milk, they get emptied of milk. On and on the cycle goes. And then they're weaned and left just a little lower than they perched before. I understand the concept of push-up bras now. Gravity is a mean force to mess with when it comes to breasts, and one I will more than likely work to defy for the rest of my days. And not only are they lower, they've been lined and stretched and I can still see the faint white scars all over from how much they've been forced to grow over the last 3 years. *Sigh* I'm accepting them, but it's still something I struggle with.

Along the same vein as acceptance, let's talk about that tummy.

No. 8 If you get stretchmarks, you will more than likely have a "pooch." And yes, you are beautiful.

When I had both of my children, I was 55-60 pounds heavier than my normal weight. That kind of gain was more than my skin could adapt to, so I now have a web of stretch marks that lace my thighs, my hips, my tush, my sides, and my belly. And you know what? I'm still smokin.'

You might come away from pregnancy without a mark, and I'm happy for you. But I'm also overjoyed for those who carry the scars from motherhood because it serves as such a beautiful reminder of what you did. Who you grew.

One blog post I absolutely can't recommend enough is this one. If you need a pick me up, this mama puts her body into perfect perspective and I read it pretty often to see myself and my body with clarity. Here's an excerpt:



"Who can say this body isn't glorious, that my new squishy tummy isn't the perfect place for my newborn to nap and my web of stretch marks doesn't tell the loveliest story of how she once slept and grew beneath my skin?

I'm beginning to understand beauty as more of something we feel, something that stirs us, rather than something we see.  I've never felt more in tune with my body than I did through labor and birth and now new motherhood, but I've also never felt so little ownership of it.  My body is no longer just a physical concept for me to obsess over for lack of self-esteem--it belongs to a tiny human for much bigger purposes like nourishment and comfort.  It's more than how it looks. What a gift to both of us that it's healthy and functioning well enough to conceive, carry, birth, and nurse a child! You can't convince me that isn't beautiful."



I wrote a post on body image a couple of years ago here. Being beautiful is so close to our hearts. I'm convinced we're wired that way. Please remember: You are beautiful. No matter your stripes.

So that's the reality of postpartum life as it pertained to me and my body. I'd be curious to know what topics I've missed, so those of you who have gone through this before, feel free to comment below!

And for those of you who are about to enter motherhood, I hope this takes the mystery out of all those knowing glances and "Oh just you wait" comments you've been getting. :D