I’d always envisioned my life with children, but my extremely low pain threshold meant I was truly terrified of the birth experience. While pregnant with my daughter, I attended childbirth classes, extensively researched delivery techniques, and even maintained a birth-friendly exercise regimen (lots of squats). With the help of my good friend, the epidural, combined with my preparation and a good amount of luck, my first birth experience was relatively painless. I felt like I had taken an important exam for which I’d studied relentlessly and received an A+, and I was pretty dang proud of myself.
Little did I know that (for me, at least), delivery was the easy part. I knew next to nothing about the postpartum stage. All I knew was that it was likely that breastfeeding would be a learning process, I would still look pregnant for a while, and I would be sleep-deprived. It was…so much more than that. The symptoms I really experienced were all “normal” for postpartum mothers, yet, they were so different than what I’d anticipated that I was, well, completely freaked out.
A few days after my daughter was born, I had the startling realization that while she had ample doctor’s appointments (thanks to latching difficulties and jaundice, we were at the hospital nearly daily), I was not due to see my own doctor for a full six weeks. Giving birth put my body through a lot, and six weeks felt like forever. So, I spent a lot of time with Dr. Google, and my Google search history from that period probably haunts my digital imprint to this day.
The fact that no one had shared any of these symptoms with me also made me feel like they were embarrassed by them, and I should be too. Add to that sleepless nights and the uncertainty of managing a newborn’s needs for the very first time, and I felt like I was a shadow of my former self. Friends wanted to come over to meet the baby, but I didn’t want them to see me. This swollen, bleeding, sweaty version of myself that was running on pure adrenaline was a stranger to me, and I wondered if my body was betraying me.
Eventually, of course, I emerged from those postpartum days. It took a long time, and it felt like a very lonely road – again, because while I heard lots of (very detailed) birth stories, more experienced moms hadn’t shared the nitty-gritty details of the postpartum stage, so I felt like I shouldn’t either. Now, when one of my friends is pregnant for the first time, I make sure she knows that it is okay to have profuse night sweating and talk about it, too.
When I became pregnant with my son, I thought that the delivery would be a breeze and that once again, I would become a possessed zombie once he was born. Surprise! My second delivery was actually far more challenging, but as soon as that stubborn baby popped out, I was shocked and delighted by how much more at ease I felt with the first few weeks after birth. Since I’d been through it all before, I knew there was nothing wrong with me as my body made the major physical and hormonal adjustments from pregnant to postpartum and breastfeeding. I was able to trust the process and feel comfortable in my (loose) skin.