Prior to becoming pregnant, I never thought about what postpartum healing entailed. In movies, we may see the mother scream from labor pains, but after that all is joyful, which is not true for everyone. While I was pregnant I had read a few articles that explained what would happen, which for some reason terrified me more than actually giving birth, but I still had no clue what I was in for. I had heard one celebrity say she didn't expect to be as sore as she was, but that still wasn't a clear picture of the pain and discomfort I would endure. Aside from the immediate postpartum healing though, I thought I'd track and share what exactly I went through during my first year postpartum, because I had heard from a few people that they didn't even feel like they got their bodies back or felt like themselves again until a year later. WARNING: Talk of pee, poo, blood below.
The Immediate Aftermath
As a reminder, or if you're new here, I had a vaginal birth so there may be things I'm missing here that are different for those who have had C-sections. But let's dive right in. The first time I went to the bathroom, the nurse had to help me, and not because I asked her to help me, she said, "No, I need to go in there with you." She literally had to help me and she had to check my pad and underwear, and show me what I needed to do, like how to wash myself with the peri bottle, because I couldn't wipe, how to use the witch hazel, then how to wear the ice pack pad, which by the way is weird because it's not absorbent so you're sort of just bleeding onto an ice pack. The Frida Mom ones absorb, so stock up on some of those! Although, at the hospital they wanted me to stop using the ice pack after 24 hours, when I went home there were a few times I used them because I just really needed to be iced down there.
Also, looking down there for the first time after giving birth was SHOCKING. My labia was totally stretched out like a saggy pair of old lady boobs. No one told me about this, so at first I wanted to cry a little thinking they were going to stay like that. Thankfully, they did not.
I had a couple friends who were kind enough to warn me about this, and literally the week before I unexpectedly went into labor! I was terrified of my first poo post delivery, but miraculously it didn't end up hurting. They give you stool softeners along with pain pills, so perhaps that helped. I think I also was so afraid that I waited until I knew for sure I really had to go and I don't think I pushed much, because I was terrified. I was so scared, and then it was fine. Funny enough, I told the nurse I was afraid of this and she told me not to worry. But after I went and told her it didn't hurt like I thought it would, she said that that was great, because since I tore to the front (it's more common to tear towards the back) it usually would hurt more for me, but she didn't want to scare me. I think after enduring what I think was like 13 hours of painful labor before turning up to the hospital, nothing could be as painful as that. I mean, thank goodness the first poo was not as painful as that--at least for me. My friends that warned me about this said they would rather go through labor and delivery again than the first poo. So you see, everyone's experience is different.
The immediate postpartum discomfort was not just a little soreness for me. I was in pain and could not sit or walk normally for the first couple weeks. And every time I exerted too much energy, I'd feel pain again and bleed more. I'm sure this varies for every woman, too, so this was just my experience.
My entire pregnancy I didn't look too much like I was pregnant unless you saw my belly. But when I saw our photos that we took outside the hospital the day we went home, I thought, oh I guess I did gain weight. But actually, it was swelling that eventually went down. I also experienced visible swelling in my legs the first or second week home, because of being on my feet too much. So mamas, put those feet up and make your partner do more work!
Upon leaving the hospital and especially when my milk came in on the 5th day postpartum, my boobs were noticeably larger. This too eventually subsides as your body gets used to nursing (if you nurse, of course). I don't remember how long this took though. I just remember one day realizing, hey, my boobs are back to "normal."
Postpartum Adrenaline Rush and Depression
I was fortunate not to have postpartum depression in those early days, because boy were those days stressful learning how to keep a tiny human alive. Instead, I seemed to be on a constant adrenaline rush. There were certainly days I felt more overwhelmed and even broke down and cried, but that was largely due to trouble nursing in the beginning and other external issues. That being said, there were definitely days I just felt extremely lonely. And that was sad. I really think doctor's offices need to update their questionnaire that's supposed to check on whether you're depressed or not. They always ask if you've recently felt worthless, and I never felt worthless, but what about feeling like you want to escape or run away? (Just to be clear, I never wanted to escape or runaway from my baby, but instead runaway with my baby).
Around 3-4 months postpartum my hair started shedding INSANELY! I'm used to shedding quite a bit, and by that time I thought at first I just needed a haircut, but then I realized, nope this must be a postpartum thing. It's more an inconvenience than anything else, but the scene in my shower was NOT pretty. Thankfully this only lasted until about 5 months postpartum for me.
Either I hadn't looked at my body in a mirror for four months, or I just hadn't realized it right away; but also around 4 months, I gave myself quite the fright when I looked in the mirror and saw that my booty looked deflated. Where did it go??? Why is it sagging and sad??? For some reason, pushing a tiny human out of your body deflates your butt! The funny thing is that I remember several years ago when a friend of mine had her daughter, she told me her butt just didn't look the same anymore. She wanted to cover it up for a trip to the lake or the river or something like that and I thought she was just being tough on herself, because she looked fit to me. But once I saw my own booty in the mirror, I texted her and told her I finally understood what she meant. So, I started doing squats and other booty lifting exercises as much as possible. Thankfully around 8-8.5 months postpartum, I checked the mirror again and was relieved to see my booty no longer looking so sad. I think it's from chasing and playing with the baby so much. Perhaps if I had diligently worked out it would have taken less time, but these days chasing the kid is my exercise!
Did my hair get electrocuted?
Nope, that's just baby hairs having a field day. Around 7 or 8 months I noticed I had more baby hairs than usual and they were out of control! Unless I put gel in my hair, there is no way to put my hair in a ponytail without looking ridiculous. And I'm not even sure the gel would work. At least my baby and I can have matching hairstyles.
Postpartum Weight Loss.
I think it's horrible and cruel the way our society has placed such emphasis on postpartum weight loss. Not only did my body grow and give life, it also continues to feed life. So, I've learned to be kinder to my body. With all that said, I'll share a bit of my post-birth body journey though, because it's different for everyone. Immediately after birth I expected to still have a belly as many women do, but mine was nearly completely deflated. Not that I had a flat tummy or a six pack going on, but if you didn't know me you might not have known I just gave birth. It was very strange. I had been carrying this protruding belly for several months and all of a sudden it was gone. Out of curiosity I weighed myself when I got home and it seemed I had lost around 12 pounds of baby and fluids. I think I've heard other women note a similar number, in case you're curious about how much a baby, placenta, and all the other things that leave your body during birth weigh. As is common for many women, nursing also did seem to give my metabolism a boost and much of the weight came off quickly. At one year I'm still nursing, but I'd say my metabolism started to stabilize itself when my first period came back. So, I can no longer rely on feeding my baby to maintain my weight. It's also worth noting that not everyone loses weight as a result of breastfeeding. Some gain weight, because you're burning so many calories you're constantly eating (or at least some of us are).
Besides weight loss though, before six weeks you're not supposed to do much physical activity except some walking, and you're not allowed to lift anything heavier than the baby. So, by six weeks I was itching to get in a workout. Thankfully I was cleared, but I did not go hardcore and I also did not manage to make working out as regular as I would have liked until about nine or ten months postpartum, when I decided to make workouts part of mine and baby's routine. He doesn't actually workout with me, but I figured if he gets used to this, eventually he'll start working out with me. He does help make my workouts more challenging though, because he likes to climb all over me. Today he was nice though and scratched my back for a few seconds.
My First Period.
I went 587 days without a period and I did not miss it one bit! If you stop nursing earlier you'll probably get yours sooner. Some people have noted heavier flows after childbirth and while my flow didn't return outrageously heavy, I do think it is a little heavier; but I've only had one period so far. I did make the switch to sustainable period products though, so if you're interested in reading about menstrual cups, check out my last post!
Now it's a year later...would I say I feel I have my body back or that it's back to normal? No, but not because of any particular physicality. Although I do feel like my rib cage has expanded some? Maybe? The thing is, once you grow and give life, your body changes. I view my body completely differently now, and I'm much kinder to it. I'm so grateful for it's incredible strength and what it has done and continues to do for my baby.
What about you? What has your postpartum journey been like? What was it like? I would love to hear your stories. I think it's so important to share our experiences, because for some reason we haven't done that in the past when it comes to one of the most natural things we've been doing since the start of woman-kind. However, sharing our experiences allows us to connect and feel less lonely through it all, as well as empower us with knowledge.