In some areas of life I am, pure and simple, an optimist.
I always assume that things will go swimmingly well for me. I notice those in the same situation who seem just great, and I of course "know" that I will be the same way.
For instance, before I had a child I remember my friend Donna having a baby. She was back at church driving a mini van in what seemed like a week. "Natural birth! You recover so fast," she quipped. I would be just like that, I thought.
I was wrong. I was wrong about taking my skinny jeans with me to wear home from the hospital, I was wrong about my baby never crying (because I would have breasts and a sling, DUH) and I was wrong about postpartum recovery.
Some of this innocence is due to my idiotic optimism about the realities of life, but some of it is due also to the way we still continue to ignore some of these things in American culture.
Women are often expected to be back at work full time within about six weeks of giving birth. Movie stars (who had twins no less) are back in their evening gowns and strutting down the red carpet in the same period of time.
It looks so easy! Their hair is perfect! Their tummy is flat! No bags under their eyes!
It is a lie. Well, at least it is for me.
In fact, I think this unrealistic expectation sets women and their partners up for some serious disappointment in themselves and each other (no hubby, she will probably not have her body back in a few weeks) simply because nobody ever talks about the reality of post baby life.
Well, in an effort to prepare and encourage mothers of new babies, here goes a few things that I found surprising.
1) It is not uncommon to bleed for a few weeks (often six or so) with the first baby-
In my experience the bleeding is often less with subsequent pregnancies, but this often takes women by surprise and the first they hear of postpartum bleeding is when they are getting ready to leave the hospital.
Have a wide range of maxi pads on hand, starting with huge ones for the first few days and ending with pantyliners for the last few weeks of light spotting. Nothing internal - so pads are the only way to go.
Nobody likes to buy these- but a wise midwife once recommended Depends to me! One of the best investments I have ever made. You can pretend you are buying them for grandma. But the truth is, some grown up diapers are not a bad idea for the first few days, especially when you sleep. They insure that you won't leak blood on your bed, which will minimize laundry. Believe me, you don't need any more laundry than necessary when you have just had a baby.
2) Babies and mothers produce a lot of bodily fluids-
Mom will not only be losing blood, but when her milk comes in, well.....Let's just say, the female body has a tendency to overshoot a little. Then the baby- their tummies are very small, and milk may be plentiful, and this can lead to some serious spit up.
Sleeping on an extra sheet, (I like to use a smaller flat sheet folded up underneath me) is not a bad idea. Lots of moms find it is easier and you get more sleep if you have the baby in your room for the first few months. If you have a sheet or towel underneath you that can be pulled off and washed in the morning it will make your life easier and your bed feel cleaner.
3) The Peri Bottle-
The Peri bottle is an ingenious invention for spraying on your "down there" parts every time you pee.
Despite the fact that birth is beautiful and marvelous and all that jazz, babies are big and your bodily tissues will need some time to recover. You will probably feel bruised for a while and especially if you have stitches or tearing, you will really appreciate some soothing water on your lady parts when you use the potty. (I just said potty. Can you tell I have four kids?)
I like to add a few drops of soothing oils and a tiny squirt of hibiclense to the Peri bottle.
And, as I have mentioned, these things are NEVER big enough. So having two or using a larger, squeezable sports bottle is not a bad idea. Fill them up after you use them each time to be ready for your next potty break. The Peri bottle will be your own little bath and your best friend for a few weeks.
4) Sex- Umm, NO!
I realize that some women want to get right back in the saddle after they have given birth.
Frankly, I think this is crazy talk for a few reasons. One is because it really does take about six weeks for your body to heal, your tissues to bounce back, and things to go back to normal. The other is because even though I have had four fabulous all natural births, the last thing I want to do immediately after them is get pregnant again. Plus- you are probably TIRED! You are caring for an infant that needs constant care. Your partner matters a ton, but devoting a few weeks just to the baby is not a bad thing.
Hubby matters. But he can either wait a little while or you can do other stuff. Other stuff that doesn't require penetration.
For some women, if the birth was traumatic or stitches were done a little wrong, this can take longer for everything to feel normal again. This is not unusual, we just don't ever talk about it.
I find it really disturbing that we as a people expect women to do so little for themselves postpartum and really disrespect this important and vulnerable time. Sure, in some countries women squat and give birth in the field and then get up and keep working. I asked a midwife about this once. Her response was that this only happens when women are very poor- and guess what- they die more often.
Relax. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Those four things will make you a better mother to your baby and better able to care for those around you.
5) Weight Loss-
I see women who by the time they are back out in public are in their regular clothes. I thought I would be like those women.
Sadly, I am five months postpartum and still have thirty pounds more on me than I did when I got pregnant. This kind of sucks, but it isn't that strange.
Most people probably lose about twenty pounds with the birth process (baby, water, blood, placenta, etc). For me, the rest of it requires some time and some hard work.
Most of us don't have trainers and cooks and people helping us all the time with the baby. This isn't an excuse to not get healthy, it is just the reality of modern middle class life.
It takes nine months to gain the weight and it will probably take that long to lose it. So don't beat yourself up. Also, if your partner has a hard time with the fact that you didn't bounce back as quickly as Victoria Beckham, tell him he doesn't look much like David Beckham and....where is the Ferrari?
Partners need to be patient too. The portrayal we see of postpartum women in the media is simply not realistic.
I promised some good stuff, didn't I?
After all the surprising and bloody things about birth, there is good stuff.
The most important of which is that you have a baby! Hopefully you have some time and some loved ones that will help you really devote some time to raising that baby. Love it, cuddle it, feed it, and just focus on being a mother. I can guarantee that you will be a better mother if you give yourself some time to heal.
Every time I decide I am "good" and jump back in too soon, I pay for it later. On the other end of things, if you really take these few weeks to relax and heal, you will recover FASTER.
Often, people want to help. Let them. Ask them. Accept some service in your life.
Other things that I found helpful-
Prepared frozen meals in my freezer for a few weeks. When you are cooking the last few months before baby, just make double of some things (lasagna, enchiladas, fresh mac and cheese, Shepherd's pie) and put the extra one in the freezer.
Stool softeners. I refuse to explain this, but not necessarily a bad idea. Your body will probably be kind to you for a little while, but mentally, they can be helpful.
Staying home. I don't know of many other cultures that expect women to be up and around so quickly. After my second child was born I was on a plane traveling the third day postpartum.
Needless to say, it was awful and a nervous breakdown was part of the experience.
Anyway, I met some guys from Africa at the airport and they were horrified that I was traveling. They said in their country, mama and baby stayed together for a solid month and rested....IN BED.
Let's start cherishing these precious weeks and we will see happier and healthier mothers and babies.
Feed, grow, and love your baby in peace and without guilt that your aren't accomplishing anything- You are accomplishing something fabulous, priceless in fact. You are raising a baby. Enjoy it.