7 Lessons From My Postpartum Experience

7 Lessons From My Postpartum Experience

A quick note…

I would like to preface this post by saying that these points are coming from a very personal place. I am guessing that you ended up on this page because you are searching for ideas, solutions, answers, clarification, or maybe really need to know there is someone else who had a similar experience just so you can prove to yourself that you aren’t a crazy freak of nature. (That is how I often felt about myself the last few months. Pardon the run-on sentense.)

So I humbly offer my experience and reflections in hopes that it can be helpful to you. This information is very personal. I am a private person by nature and tend to switch into “ghosting” mode or, as my Mom and I call it, “Turtle mode” when I come into unfamiliar and difficult situations. (If my Mom hasn’t heard from me in a few days, she’ll often text me a turtle emoji with a question mark.) I am making an exception today and putting myself out there because I believe that good connections happen as a result of being open and willing to share. Please prove to me that this is true! So without further commentary, here goes! 

 

1. No one can stand alone…

Brazil, the ultimate village…

Throughout my pregnancy, I heard that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” countless times. And I felt confident that my postpartum phase would go smoothly, based on the fact that Brazilian culture is heavily colectivistic. People look out for each other all the time. Total strangers offered to carry my groceries and give up their seat on the bus while I was pregnant.

But as my due date came and went, looking out for me took on a different tone: “Where is Menasheh?” “Aren’t you overdue? Have you done anything to induce labor? It’s dangerous to wait past 40 weeks!” As my doctor said, “The fruit falls from the tree when it is ripe.” Needless to say, this constant talk about going into labor, inducing, or just plucking him out via C-section backfired. I swear my  cervix clenched it’s little fist as if to say, “I’m not moving a muscle until I’m good and ready!”

 

Labor and postpartum…

Emotions play an undeniable part in our physical ability to go into labor naturally. It wasn’t until 40 weeks and six days that I poured out all my frustrations and aprehensions to my husband, releasing a torrent of sobs followed by a gush of… You guessed it… Amniotic fluid. My water broke, we calmly made our way to the hospital, and my son was born naturally after 7.5 hours of labor. Not bad, huh!!

Usually, all’s well that ends well, but just a few hours into postpartum, I realized that the events leading up to labor had left quite the residual “ick.” I no longer felt comfortable turning to my Brazilian “village” for support. Please don’t be mistaken, they were still willing and available, but my attitude had taken a turn for the dark side.

 

Trying to be the “do-it-all-mom”…

Until seven months after my son was born, I rarely asked for help. I was afraid that people would think I was trying to pass off my maternal duties. Too emotionally frazzled to stay rational, I interpreted advice as a failing grade. Motherhood was the hugest learning curve of my life to date, I felt unable to trust anyone to help me. I isolated myself, thinking I was doing myself a favor by never giving anyone a chance to hurt me. This was the wrong move. Consequently, I became more overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, and anxious. I also deprived well-meaning friends and family of the opportunity to prove their good intentions, and form a “village” around me.

 

The takeaway…

Feet are bound to get stepped on, and it’s hard to open your heart and trust people when you already feel so fragile from lack of sleep, so much sudden change, and possibly a looming identity crises. I get it!! But if I could do it over, I would try all the same to work up some courage and reach out. Afterall, worse-case scenario, you get a “no.” But more likely, you will find someone eager to do whatever they can to help and show that they care.

 

2. Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your baby…

The healthier and happier you are, the better equipped you become to nurture your baby.

On the importance of showers…

Don’t skip showers. You need to wash off those layers of sweat, pee, poo, and spit up before you start to smell like you took a tour through the sewer. Sometimes I went three days without showering. Now I ask myself why I let it get that bad. If hubs can ask you to drop whatever you are doing to fetch a burp rag because babe deposited a bloop on his shoulder, you can request support long enough to take a shower once, or better yet, twice a day.

Nursing and holding your little one all day and night will make your back (and entire body) feel like you just ran a marathon. Hot water does wonders for sore muscles. You’ll step out of that shower feeling like you found your gusto to carry on for the next 8-hour shift. I know!… Tough but true!

 

Establish a morning and evening routine…

If baby needs one, so do you! In general, humans cope better with a baseline amount of predictability. My son and I both stay more emotionally stable when we can count on waking up and going to bed the same way every day. Even if everything else in between is unpredictable, our little morning/evening routine creates a reassuring bookend effect.

 

Don’t give up on your hair and makeup routine! Revise it…

Figure out a hairstyle that you can keep up with so that you look nice every day without having to spend stressful amounts of time washing and styling. The same goes for makeup routine. If it’s too much to put on makeup every day, then try a skin care regime that can be incorporated into your shower.

 

Your postpartum body image: Clothes can make it or break it…

Clothes are important. I suffered with my body image until I lost enough weight to start fitting into my old clothes properly. If money wasn’t an object, I would have bought some outfits that fit and flattered my body while it was still larger and softer. Because I chose to breastfeed, I found out that loosing weight needed to happen gradually so as not to threaten my milk supply. This meant that I had to endure a few months with my belly oozing out of my pants and outlined by my shirts way to vividly for comfort. A flattering outfit can boost your confidence when you are having to contend with so many physical changes, many of which are out of your control. So even though clothes are just another material thing, I would argue that in this case they make a huge impact.

 

Give yourself the occasional mini-spa…

Soak your feet in hot water every now and then, scrub off all that dirt and dead skin, pluck or wax those wiry toe hairs, and put on a fresh layer or two of polish. It makes a world of difference. Now, every time you look down at your toes feeling exhausted and defeated, you’ll see something cute and pretty. Sometimes we pass on these simple acts of self-care thinking, “I have bigger fish to fry. My feet are gross? So what? Bite me.” The point is, whatever you choose to do, do it for yourself and don’t worry about trying to compete with or please anyone else.

 

3. Food matters. Don’t skimp…

Build a stache of emergency food. Now is not the time to obsess over eating super cheap. Usually cheap means unprepared. It’s not worth saving money at the expense of never eating because you have a fridge full of raw ingretients that require at least 40 minutes of prep time, untethered to baby.    

I found certain things that were still budget friendly but could be made in bulk and then stored. Also, why waste your time making food that doesn’t help you produce milk. Choose recipes that have some lactation-supporting ingredients like beans, oats, eggs, greens… In general, the more balanced and healthy you eat, the better you will feel and the more milk you will be able to produce.

 

4. Sleep is a must, for your sanity and your baby’s safety…

It’s not like the moment baby is born we automatically need less sleep. It may feel this way but don’t be decieved. Mom instincts kick in, baby captivates you, and you can easily end up living for a few days on adrenaline and oxytocin fumes.

After my son was born, I went three days without sleeping. And I felt fine. Sort of. I was exhausted but I also felt so content and in love with my baby that it was hard to fall asleep. This, in combination with around-the-clock crying babies during my hospital stay made sleep impossible. And then we got home from the hospital, two weeks later my parents returned to the U.S. and there I was with baby, totally worn out, angry, grieving, and left with the “night duty.” In retrospect, I should have told people the truth when they asked how my baby was sleeping, (he woke up every 2-3 hours like any other newborn,) and I should have asked someone to watch him during the daytime so I could nap. (He isn’t much of a daytime sleeper.)

Sleep is a cornerstone of basic human functionality. We weren’t designed to go without sleep. If you loose too much sleep it can put your safety and baby’s safety at risk. Some say that sleep deprivation causes us to have the same level of brain function as when we are drunk. Scary thought! If you wouldn’t care for your baby drunk, then try to avoid becoming too sleep deprived, and when you are feeling “tipsy” ask someone else to step in with baby duty.

 

5. Water, Sunshine, Exercise, and Deep Breathing…

This seems basic, right? But miss out on any or all of these and you will notice a negative domino-effect that throws you off balance in other areas of life.

 

Water

The benefits of good hydration are tremendous, as are the symptoms of dehydration. Learn your body’s signals for dehydration and answer promptly. It can be hard to pay attention to our bodies when we are so consumed with the responsibility of raising a healthy baby. Therefore, this is one area where intentionality is key. It might help to set reminder alarms, keep a water intake journal, carry a water bottle with you, even when you’re at home. I formed the habit of drinking a glass or two of water every time I passed the filter.

 

Sunshine

This is the most amazing mood-enhancer. It’s also awesome that, if you try to get some sunshine, you’ll likely end up breathing some fresh air and getting a little exercise without trying too hard. Even 10-15 minutes of sunshine makes a huge difference for Menasheh and I on days when we are feeling moody and restless.

 

Exercise

Now don’t worry… I’m not suggesting you join the gym and ship your baby off to day care so you can become the next amazing postpartum transformation story. I’m talking about light exercise, as in something that breaks the cycle of spending the whole day on the couch nursing with netflix. Yes, I did this so much that I started to feel like my frame was permanently molded around my baby’s nursing body. It became hard to breathe because the muscles in my chest were so tight and my back so hunched over that my diaphram didn’t have much room to expand.

Some light exercise, just to loosen up and move a little bit, is worth the effort. I suggest basic stretches that cover your main muscle groups and a walk. Now I am still trying to make this part of my daily routine, but when I do exercise, I feel so much better. On days when it seems too complicated to leave the house with babe, I like to use walking videos. You can find a free assortment on Youtube.

 

Deep Breathing

This helps break cycles of frustration and anxiety, gives a boost of energy and mental clarity, and helps you stretch out your chest after nursing sessions. It doesn’t have to be any fancy breathing technique, although go ahead if you want to use a spacific method. The main point is to fill up your lungs! And then exhale slowly. Doing this a few times throughout the day is a free, easy way to feel refreshed.

 

6. Human connection…

For some people this comes naturally. Some new mothers even need to set up boundaries for the stampede of adoring, would-be visitors. For me, I struggled with getting enough social time. Anxiety about many aspects of my new life caused me to opt for the less-draining solitude of my son’s cozy nursery. Over time, the lonliness caught up to me, and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with sadness and emptiness. Even for an extreme introvert like myself, human connection is a fundamental need. So I am trying to make it to church, take low-key opportunities to play my violin, talk with people at the grocery store and bakery who stop to comment on my baby’s good looks and charisma. (Wink wink… Not biased at all.) Even the short and sweet exchanges are important for maintaing that sense of belonging to a community. This is so important.

 

7. Pay attention to thoughts and emotions…

Although well-meaning, some people tend to disregard a postpartum woman’s emotions, chalking it up to hormones. Too many hormones, too few hormones, hormones fluctuating too much. It’s the easy catch-all, pat-pat explanation for any and all dramatic, complicated, confusing or irrational behavior from us. Sometimes, when I was too tired to “get into it,” I am ashamed to say I even neglected myself, replying to peoples’ inqueries with the one-word answer, “Hormones.” This was a horrible mistake! It caused me to start repressing actual conflicts. In addition, it gave other people license to ignore symptoms and red flags that came in abundance as I veered more and more toward anxiety and depression.

So, to set the record straight once and for all, ladies and gentlemen: Yes, hormones are a huge, in-your-face aspect of postpartum life. However hormones CAN NOT create emotions. They CAN spur on and intensify an already-existing thought/emotion/neurochemical release cycle. This means that any emotion that is “blowing up” as a result of hormones ALREADY EXISTED and stems from a legitamate issue. So pay attention to these emotions. Don’t ignore them. Instead, make them work for you and lead you back to the thoughts that are causing distress and conflict. If you are a person supporting a postpartum woman, help her unpack her mental burdens by identifying emotions you see her experiencing. But please, please, please, don’t pass off complex, intimidating emotions as “hormones.” This will only hurt your relationship with yourself/the person you intend to support. *Drops mic*

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