Many women, including myself, face a spectrum of emotions after having a child. When I look back at my blissful pregnancy, and what I see of those pregnant around me, it goes something like this: For over nine months we are nurtured through prenatal care. Midwives quell our anxieties, doulas and coaches are at our every need, doctors try to adhere to our every sickness and questions, friends gift us with massages and showers. Family members are there with advice. Strangers open the doors for us....And then our baby is born. Easy, right? HA!
Fast forward a few weeks (or sometimes longer) with a child in your arms: You might feel alienated (I did), scared (I did), and possibly on the verge of either a major crisis—postpartum depression—where you feel like you’ve completely lost yourself (me again!). Lack of sleep, hormonal imbalance, breastfeeding struggles, living away from family, and too few ladies’ nights leave us stuck in survival mode.
With my son's 2nd birthday approaching next week, I started to look back and remember those difficult months immediately following his birth in the fall of 2013. Maybe you can relate with a stint of postpartum that I expereinced after having my son, Camden. I was beyond fortunate to not have a full blown case of postpartum depression (and my heart goes out to those women that have to endure the severity and extreme cases of PPD), but I definitely hit the spectrum after he was born. My 'baby blues' (as some like to call it, even though I think that term majorly downplays the actual 'blues' that take place) started from day 2 post hospital and lasted roughly 3 months (things started balancing out for me when he was around 12-14 weeks old, which was the same time he started sleeping through the night. I am no expert but I am sure they were related!)
There were many times that I would be crying in the shower, as the shower seemed my only place of peace and refuge. Sometimes I wouldn't even know why I was crying or sad. I remember being irate with my husband and other family members that came to help. No matter how much they tried to be there for me, I felt like my needs were being completely overlooked and brushed aside. I was just a flat out hormonal basket case, but more than that, I was imbalanced and sick. I would find myself trying to hide away in my own home, staring off into space; nothing eased my anxiety. I would be happy one minute, and super moody and angry the next. I wanted no one around, but yet was super co-dependent at the same time. I loved every ounce of my new child, but yet thought I had ruined my life by becoming a mother. I remember thinking to myself as I was breastfeeding early on "What the F were you thinking!?! Becoming a mother was the dumbest idea you have ever had..."
As sad as it is to admit out loud, at the time it seemed like my truth. Looking back at it now it makes me grateful, because I was fortunate to have a husband, family and other amazing moms around me who took PPD seriously and supported me in what I needed for a healthier, balanced state of being.
Fast forward almost 2 years later, we have gotten into the routine of our new life as a family, We are even crazy enough to think about having a #2 (lol). I am a much better wife, daughter, sister, friend and overall human being on this earth because my sweet Camden is who God chose me to parent.
Even though I see my experience as a gift, I first hand realize postpartum depression is no joke. I have friends who are AMAZING women; strong, independent, nurturing, successful; find themselves in the never ending cycle of 'baby blues', or even more severe, full blown postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis. Postpartum is serious business, and must be addressed as so.
The weeks and months post labor and delivery are HARD. There are so MUCH we read and learn pertaining to pregnancy and the health of our baby, but for some reason no one ever really talks about or prepares you (THE MOTHER) for your healthy postpartum phase that follows. During labor your body its stretched, manipulated, poked, prodded and torn (or even more evasive, cut completely open if you have a C-section). I mean, think about that, your body goes through a complete altered physical state of being in such a short amount of time. Add in no sleep, as you've been laboring for God knows how long, and then you must use that depleted body of yours with the tiny bit of nutrients it may have left to nurture and feed this new little being.
Oh, and learning how to breastfeed and latch properly, don't even get me started! Also known as the hardest thing a woman can ever go through! In my experience, it was harder than labor, and I had a 100% natural childbirth! Your body has 9 entire months to physically and hormonally prepare for labor, but gets a mere days to physically and hormonally prepare for life post pregnancy. It's a complete shock in every sense of the word to your system.
When I was going through my postpartum experience I came across a woman named Rebecca Egbert, founder of The Mother Love. I started reading her blog and signed up for her 'daily doses of love' emails. Egbert shares her suggestions for helping postpartum women achieve a holistic balance. Her tips mixed in with a good sleeping and a breastfeeding schedule helped me get on track to a balanced and healthy new lifestyle as a mom. I also sought breastfeeding guidance from The Pump Station and it literally saved me! If you are having trouble breastfeeding, give yourself the most amazing gift and seek out a lactation specialist!
Pay Attention to Lab Results
Remember how many times you peed into a cup or had blood drawn during prenatal care? Turns out, paying attention to those labs postpartum is also important. For example, your iron, Vitamin D, thyroid, or glucose levels can reveal why you might not be feeling well. Four to eight months postpartum is also when baby blues can turn into a more severe cases of depression and the identification of a thyroid function issue can be determined. If you’re feeling off, simply contact your care provider to have your labs drawn.
Physical Therapy for Pelvic Floor and Repairing Ab Muscles
For more enjoyable sex and preventing prolapse and incontinence, you can work with a women’s health physical therapist within the first four months of postpartum. The proper sequence of healing is: Restore diaphragmatic breathing, strengthen the abdominal muscles, and restore pelvic health.
Eating triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the system in our bodies where all healing happens. Eating clean is an easy action for our bodies, and helps regulate stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Eliminating sugar is key. It helps build good-gut flora, which is necessary for digestion, but it also assists in weight loss. Also, keep that wine in check. Drinking more than one glass of wine (or alcohol) a day triggers the sympathetic nervous system. This is the system responsible for triggering fight or flight, makes you feel anxious, and where our stress response happens. So, keep your drinks to one or two a week.
Meditation is the one standardized medicine Egbert “prescribes.” It can provide focus, productivity, resilience, creativity, and less brain fog. If you are not already familiar with a meditation practice, you can buy the yearly subscription to Headspace as a start. I also love this app called "Simply Being".
You Are Still You
As we care for these little babes, a lot of us feel guilty about having passions and ambitions. Babies can change your life and in many ways, turn it completely upside down, but they don’t change what makes you you. Don’t be afraid to go after the things you want. By doing so, you’ll empower strong little humans that believe in wonder, imagination, and possibility. Check in with yourself often and play your intuition in your favor.
Find Your Peeps
Many times, motherhood can feel alienating. Find the women in your life that make you feel strong and invest in those relationships. By creating a band of strong mothers (and non-mothers) who are willing to foster vulnerability, you can create a system that breeds bright futures. If mom is healthy and baby is healthy, our communities and futures are healthy.
The most important thing I took away from the postpartum experience is that it's NORMAL, OKAY and HEALTHY to take time to (as I like to say) "mourn the loss of the 'old' you". There are so many parts of what you knew as your life and the makeup of who you are that may be gone in order to make room for new beginnings. Just like with any loss, you have to give yourself time to mourn, reflect, learn and grow. But with this loss comes so many amazing gains that are far more than I could have ever imagined.
I also took away a new love and appreciation for my body that I never had before. Women's bodies are truly AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL. In my teens and 20's, I was hard on my body and what it looked like (as I know most women can relate to). But now I see my body as this vessel that God used to create new life. I am beyond grateful for my health and see it as a gift that my body was capable of creating life, carrying a healthy baby to full term, overcoming postpartum struggles and getting to the other side healthier and happier. I don't take my body for granted anymore and try to care for it the best I can.
If you are a new mom going though PPD, baby blues, or just don't fee like you have gotten your groove back yet, I hope this post will give you a little bit of encouragement to know that you are not alone in this postpartum state. You are not alone in your worry, sadness, anxiety or fear. This too shall pass. This is the beginning of something truly miraculous and amazing called motherhood. Keep going momma, you got this!
What was your postpartum experience like? If you feel open to share and empower other mother's that may be struggling as well, I would love to hear from you!