The way you birth your children is an incredibly personal experience. Whether you get to choose what you want or circumstances choose for you, each mother is going to experience the birth of her children in a completely different way than anyone else would. I have known women who have had empowering and beautiful cesareans, and women who have been traumatized by their drug-free water births. It’s not always what you would expect, and unless it is your own birth, you don’t really know how the experience will be perceived.
Regardless of your birth experience, no matter how beautiful or terrifying, we all still have to deal with the Fourth Trimester. (Unless you adopted an older child, which I am assuming brings its own unique adjustment period with its own unique experiences.)
Part of the reason I chose to pursue a home birth with my second baby was that I was convinced my postpartum difficulties the first time were due to an unplanned, traumatic c-section. Some of them were. But some things, I have realized, just come with the territory of newborns.
So here is a round-up of postpartum experiences that most of you can probably relate to, wherever and however you gave birth:
1. The pooping.
No, not the baby’s pooping. That’s pretty standard and everyone knows about it. Noo one warned me how interested everyone would suddenly become in my own bathroom habits during the few days immediately following the birth. With my first, it was the nurses making sure I went number two before I could leave. With my second, it was my midwife asking how the first experience was…you know, emotionally. (For the record, it was terrible. I had a panic attack and my husband had my doula call me because he was so worried. For real, you guys. I needed a poop doula.)
2. The bodily fluids.
So. Many. Fluids. With the c-section, it was slightly less, but in both cases there came a point where I was just sitting in bed crying because I felt so gross. Leaking blood and milk, sweating like a monster, and dealing with all the pee and poop of another human at the same time will do that to you.
3. The time it takes to heal.
Whether it’s recovering from a tear, surgery, or just straight up physical exhaustion, it can take a lot longer to heal than most people realize before going through it themselves. Sometimes it doesn’t! If you are one of the magical unicorn moms who can pop out a human and be walking around the next day, I am legitimately so happy for you. That’s amazing. But for most of us, the physical process takes weeks, and in some cases months or years. Give yourself grace (seriously, SO MUCH grace) and ask for help.
4. The adjustment as a family.
Whether you are adjusting from being a couple to being parents or adjusting from being a family of 5 to a family of 6, there is a little bit of an awkward shuffle as everyone tries to find their new place in the family with the addition of this new one. I found myself missing my three-year-old with a depth that surprised me, considering he was still right there in the house. But for three years, I poured everything I had into this tiny person, learned who he was, and took care of his needs. Then suddenly I had to start saying a whole lot of, “Sorry, I can’t right now, can you let Daddy help you?” Even though he was already firmly established as a Daddy’s boy, it was harder than I expected to let go of it just being us.
5. The unexpected emotions (or lack of them).
I had an incredibly hard time bonding with my son. I was basically a zombie the first few days, and although I felt fiercely protective of him, it wasn’t until months later that it suddenly dawned on me that I really, truly loved him. With my daughter, I experienced more of an immediate bond, and within days had such an intense love for her that I felt somewhat defensive when my husband mentioned he was having a hard time bonding with her. Either way, emotions have a weird way of being all mixed up and strange for the first few days and weeks, and I am learning to give myself permission to feel (or not feel) all the things. Hormones are insane. I recommend asking those close to you to just go ahead and forgive you ahead of time for whatever you say in those first few months.
I am sure there are many more universal experiences in the fourth trimester, and I encourage you to reach out to other Mamas if you find yourself thinking, “Am I the only one who…?” Because no matter how you came to be your baby’s mom, I can guarantee there is another woman out there right now, covered in spit-up, milk, pee, or sweat, just waiting for someone to tell her she’s not alone.