Solidarity for when you are trying to keep your head above water during the postpartum phase.
I was drowning. Tears, blood, milk, poop—all of the fluids that come into play postpartum were just too much. Add to that a lack of sleep and an inability to realize what I needed — or how to communicate what I needed if I were to even realize it. Even bonding with this new little person was difficult because the feelings of being overwhelmed and uncertain were just so strong.
Having a baby is hard work, but having a baby for the first time is incredibly challenging.
Not only do you have a tiny, immobile person to take care of, but your life changes from just focusing on yourself or you and your spouse and what you both need, to having to take into account someone who has no regard for your plans and no ability to communicate or participate in your life in an easy way.
Thankfully, I realized early on (at my six week postpartum doctor’s visit—where I cried pretty much the whole time) that I was very depressed. With counseling and medicine, I was able to slowly start feeling like myself again over the next few months.
This didn’t take away the difficulties in adjusting to life and finding new rhythms and routines, but it did help me to at least feel like myself while handling it, and it helped lessen my exhaustion from crying multiple times a day.
I’ve reflected on that period of life often in the subsequent years. I have had two more postpartum experiences since then, and both have been infinitely better than that first time. What made the difference? What would I tell myself then from what I know now?
The first thing I would tell myself is …
“This is going to be really hard. It won’t be like this every time. You’re adjusting to a lot of things, so just be patient with yourself!” If you are anticipating that this time will be challenging, it might help you feel less blindsided and thus less overwhelmed.
The second thing I would say is …
If someone offers to help, take them up on it. Things you need, even if you don’t realize it: food (particularly easy to grab and eat food like muffins, trail mix, cheese sticks, slices of fruit, already made or quick to assemble wraps), water to drink, a few minutes to shower, and some time to sleep. Staying hydrated and well-fed is crucial to your well-being, and even more so if you are breastfeeding.
Ask for someone to come sit with the baby while you shower and nap for 10 minutes. If someone says, “let me know if you need anything,” say yes, please come over for an hour and bring snacks. It can be very isolating to be alone with a newborn, and having someone to talk to while you both fold laundry for a few minutes can do wonders for your mental health.
The third thing I would tell myself is …
Take more time off work than you think you will need. I worked from home with my son, but I wish I’d taken off more time before “going back” to work. It was possible to work with him, but tough!
If you don’t get any kind of paid leave, figure out a way to work around that before you’re due. That might mean scrimping and saving in your second and third trimester to prepare for the days you won’t be paid. It might mean using all of your vacation time that you’ve saved up. But whatever solution, figuring out how to give yourself even just a few more days off will be worth it for your recovery—both mentally and physically.
The postpartum time is challenging, but it won’t last forever. Hang in there.
Holy Family, pray for us!