As I re-read my birth stories on the way to the hospital for Theo’s birth, I realized that a birth story can end up being a happily ever after ending.
I wish I had written more about recovery. After each birth, I’ve been caught off-guard just a bit by how long it takes to heal, by how euphoric I feel at first, and by the overwhelm that comes at certain times each day.
Those first two times, I mistakenly saw it as a sign of strength to get back to normal as soon as possible. That worked out okay the first time (though I remember lots more pain), but the second time, I think it contributed to feelings of depression months later. I didn’t realize that while birth might be something like training for a marathon, recovery is not. Recovery takes time. (This post was going around recently, and I wish I had known about this the first two times!).
This time, encouraged by a friend to listen to this podcast, I prepared to rest. I was determined not to overdo it, not to be proud of myself for doing laundry with a newborn in the baby carrier as I was that second time. I didn’t realize that overdoing it can lead to long-term problems like prolapse and adrenal fatigue, as well as exacerbating postpartum depression.
My main goal was to put off both baby-wearing and housework for the first two weeks. I feel so privileged that my mom and husband were around for most of that time to help. I read in Nurture that hinging from the waist is especially bad for healing. When I bent over to pick things up too much, the bleeding and pain would often increase. So I was very careful to avoid transferring clothes from the washer to dryer or running around like a crazy person to pick up toys. And in that, I learned to better ask for help and stop feeling so much guilt.
I also read in Nurture that when you do something active (which could just be standing up for too long in the early weeks), lying on your belly afterwards can help reset. This turned out to be very true for me.
I also didn’t rush going anywhere. I made myself wait two weeks to wear Theo and only wore him for short times at first.
I still wasn’t prepared for not feeling 100% myself after two weeks of being very careful to rest. I wasn’t prepared for the exhaustion to set in more at week 3 than week 1. However, after four weeks, I was feeling much better and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I am still getting to the point where I can go for longer walks and wear Theo in the carrier for longer periods ot time.
I read in this book that most women wonder when they will be back to normal. Yet we are never fully “normal” again after a birth. Each baby changes us and our family. This time, I was more determined to look for the lessons in this time of change rather than rush back to a “before.” This made a big difference mentally.
In the last couple months of my pregnancy, I felt overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed quite often. So I wondered if this transitional time could teach me lessons going forward. Here are a few I learned.
It takes a village. I am not the only one who somehow doesn’t need a village. Women from our church brought dinner which met a huge need at dinnertime and also alleviated some of the loneliness. I’m convinced that loneliness is one of the hardest struggles of motherhood, and a smiling face with a meal in the late afternoon cheered me up more than I would have thought. I also got a taste for parenting in community when my mom was around, and that was a very sweet time. I learned that you can't always be the strong one—the helper, the one bringing the meal. You have to also be the one accepting, letting someone else into the mess to help you. This is still hard for me.
I am a better mom when I don’t have tasks to do. For those first few weeks, as I was relieved of much dinner-making and housework, any time I did spend with my boys was watching them play or playing with them. I realized what a patient mom I become when I’m not frantically trying to get things done. So I’m trying to find a healthy balance going forward. A lot of that has looked like working smarter and finding rhythms that let me get necessary housework done.
I need to listen to my body. I don’t think I realize how often I ignore my body, even things like a full bladder or cold feet. These things make me less able to cope with other challenges, but I just ignore them instead of going to the bathroom or putting on socks. I wrote this post because I didn’t realize how subconsciously, the cracks on my hands made me dread doing dishes. But I haven’t incorporated that into my daily routine all that much. During this time, I saw how much staying warm—through thick socks and hot drinks—helps me stay cheerful and upbeat (and heal quickly!). Even recently, I didn’t realize I had been grumpy all morning because the cracks on my heels were bothering me. Instead of ignoring it, I slathered on some coconut oil and thick socks and couldn’t believe how much more cheerful I felt. It’s not a sign of strength for us to neglect our daily physical needs, and when we can fix problems or meet these needs, we should! Paying attention to my body has also helped me find and appreciate restful moments in the everyday—I learn to close my eyes while I’m rocking the baby to savor a few minutes of silence. I’m learning to feel the sensations around me again rather than just being stuck in my head.
Times of change can create helpful new rhythms. Having my mom around gave me a chance to watch her parent. She made so many helpful suggestions (like having more consistent meal times and feeding the boys earlier in the evening). She helped me through some discipline battles which was huge. I also saw how much I had been letting my exhaustion serve as an excuse to be impatient and how impatience flows to everyone. So I’m relearning to stay calm and structure my life in such a way that I don’t have as much exhaustion (so hard!). She also reminded me that TV won’t hurt my kids.
I don’t have to find “the best.” I’m not failing! This has been my number one motherhood struggle—trying to find the best way of doing things (or at least a really, really good one). This time has shown me again that God is faithful to give wisdom to the one who asks. I’m not doing a terrible job, and that’s not a helpful mantra to be going through my mind.
It’s not about my strength; it’s about God’s. I think I often assume God wants me to do the best I can and then he will step in and help. But I’m learning that God is involved in every second of my day, and His Spirit lives in me. God wants me to be competent—to be able to do this, and he gives the strength and wisdom in abundance. I’m learning more than ever to see His providence in daily things, to value the work I’m doing, and to be more faithful in prayer for myself and others.
The postpartum season brings pain, rawness, and uncertainty. Any big change involves big emotions, some of which are painful. I always find a massive pendulum swing of emotions is part of the process. It is a time that can be exhausting and filled with stress. But I’m convinced now that through the support of others and healthy expectations, it can also be a sweet time of growth and learning.
This time wasn’t easy. On top of pain and healing, our family cycled through a virus that kept our other two boys up coughing for a lot of the first four weeks. There were tantrums. I couldn’t pick up our other two easily. And there were moments when I wondered if I would ever get my strength back.
But with all the challenges, this is the first postpartum time I’ve looked back on with fondness rather than overwhelm. These weeks have been some I will treasure as I’ve been forced to slow down and reevaluate. They have looked like hot chocolate with coconut oil and cinnamon in the afternoon. I wrote out the birth story while I could still remember the details and filled in Theo’s journal. I sat outside on our bench and let my boys make pretend candy and bring it to me on their scooters. There have been many challenging moments and several where I wondered if this was even possible. But overall, it has been sweet.
I will say that it always takes time, and this message has been easier to absorb with each new baby. It doesn’t last forever. However, I am totally convinced that how we spend this postpartum period—and how we help others through their own—sets the tone for many of the months that follow and, some would argue, our entire experience of motherhood.