Postpartum reflections

I’ve been following Australian actress Teresa Palmer on Instagram lately, and have been reading her posts over on her blog Your Zen Mama. She had her second baby just before I had my third, and she has been sharing her weekly postpartum reflections. I’ve really enjoyed reading them, it reminds me that I’m not the only one going through this at the moment. Her honesty is refreshing and the detail she goes into with her reflections is also actually really helpful.

Inspired by her posts, I’ve decided to put a reflection of my own together, but I will not be doing this weekly because I HAVE THREE KIDS. It’s also taken me four and a half weeks (no, I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I gave birth) to get this down because I’ve been stumbling around in a mind-fog and drowning in an endless cycle of nappy changes, tantrums, sibling rivalry and swaddling wraps…

So here goes:

The Labour

I’m not going to give y’all a recount of my labour in detail, because, well, who really wants to know how it all went down? All labours are excruciatingly painful- regardless of how long/short they are. There are some things I do want to note though:

  • This was the first labour that I opted to have an epidural. At first, it was wondrous. My husband and I looked over at each other and could only stare in amazement and comment on how this “doesn’t even feel like labour.” I knew when I was getting contractions, but I couldn’t feel their full force. Until I could. OH MY GOD. The damn epidural WORE OFF PEOPLE just when I needed it the most and I faced at least 40minutes to an hour of excruciating pain. The anaesthetist was stuck in a caesarean (later I found out from the nurses that there were SIX caesareans that day) and I had no choice but to scream through contractions that hit me with extreme force. I opted for the gas, which made me nauseous and suddenly I was vomiting all over myself. I was also screaming “WHY THE HELL DID I GET AN EPIDURAL IF THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!!!” and then profusely apologising afterwards for yelling… because I am an apologiser. More on that another day.
  • Essentially, I had an epidural because they wanted to speed up my labour due to certain risks and having heard horror stories about induction from friends who had been through it, I decided to get the epidural in advance. Sure I felt that guilt, I was anxious about the consequences and side effects, and I was also terrified of having someone stick a needle into my spine. BUT, the memory of the pain of contractions was also much too fresh and came rushing back to me when in that birthing room and I looked over at my husband and said, “let’s do the epidural”, whereupon he replied, “it’s your choice babe. I aint gonna judge you, and nobody else should either. You do what you have to do.” Basically he said exactly what I needed to hear lol. #husbandoftheyear
  • So this labour was different from my other two because it literally had a bit of everything. There was the epidural, the syntoconin, the gas, feeling the full force of contractions and in around four hours or so (my memory of the timeline of this birth is fuzzy given everything), baby was ready to make his entrance. With a top up of the epidural and the midwives telling me when and how to push, my son graced us with his presence.
  • And apparently that is me NOT giving a recount of the birth lol. Too much detail for y’all? I apologise…
  • OVERALL: I hated the epidural. I paid for it after as well (more on that in the next section). Labour is FREAKING PAINFUL AND I NEVER WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN. Phew. But when baby comes out and they place him on your chest, there is nothing in this world that compares. I am extremely grateful I was able to experience it again.

The Hospital Stay

Because of the epidural and certain side effects, I stayed in hospital for around 3 days. Basically I was getting some major headaches. And when I say major, I mean MAJOR. I was basically forced to stay lying down, as the headaches would hit me as soon as I sat up. This made changing baby’s nappy/clothes and picking him up difficult. But I took all the painkillers they gave me and it helped.

The hospital stay was much calmer and overall a better experience, mainly because I was mostly ignored by the hospital staff, except when they came in to do the necessary checks. Because #BABYNO3

Oh, also, the girls meeting their baby brother was the sweetest. J (the older one) was totally smitten. Z on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. She kissed him and exclaimed his name over and over, but she wouldn’t come near me. I think it was because I was lying in a strange bed, in a strange place, drained of colour, with needles sticking out of me. Maybe…

Once we got Home

Again, things were much calmer as baby slept really well. Actually, he was extremely sleepy and I’d have to wake him up for feeds. He was slightly jaundiced so this probably contributed to his lethargy. It did make recovery for me easier though as I got plenty of rest. Also, my mum came over everyday for around two weeks, which was basically a God send, otherwise I could not have dealt with everything, and probably would have starved.

My mum is an angel in disguise, as every time I’ve given birth, she comes over and does everything for me. She’s firm with this as well. She forces me to rest, and literally does not allow me to do anything. And I mean NOTHING. She doesn’t let me wash dishes, throw in laundry, vacuum, cook… She spends the time looking after my older kids and doing everything. She insists that the postpartum time is for rest, and drinking soup lol. Which she forced me to drink 3 times a day. Breastmilk is mainly water, so drinking lots of soup makes sense.

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What I’m eating

The weeks when my mum was here were great. She made good wholesome homemade food, mainly soups as I said above. My mother in law sent yummy Turkish foods… I tried to get my intake of veggies and fruit, and a snack at night, because breastfeeding makes me really hungry. My friend made me some lactation cookies and sweet potato tarts which were the best for snacking.

Once my mum stopped coming as often, I had to fend for myself lol. I’ve been doing grocery shopping online, or getting the husband to bring home groceries. Haven’t been cooking much, although I’m trying.

This week I’m going to try to go back to a gluten free diet, as eating wheat based foods throws off my digestive system, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also, lots and lots of water!

The Emotions

The first three weeks I went through the wave of hormones and the resulting emotional rollercoaster. I’m prone to anxiety anyway, so I don’t cope well with the postpartum hormonal changes that the body goes through. Plus the stress of keeping a baby alive… basically I obsess over every little detail, dramatise it, and end up in a puddly mess of tears.

This time around I felt completely overwhelmed by the need for me to meet the emotional needs of three children. And I wasn’t even feeding them. Or cleaning. How could I do EVERYTHING once my mum stopped coming?

More tears ensued.

Somewhere around week 3.5-4, the fog started to clear from my brain and I started to feel like myself. My body started to recover and gain strength, and my psyche benefitted from heading out of the house, getting back to some sense of normalcy. The Solly Baby wrap has been great, making outings easier, and I’m also loving the new stroller.

Our new family of five braved dinners out, a wedding, a picnic at a beach, visiting interstate guests who had arrived, doctor’s appointments etc within the first few weeks of baby’s life.

Baby

Our new baby has coped with entering this world like a champ. He is very serious, always frowning, and has a gaze that is so knowing. He is totally wise beyond his…weeks lol. He sleeps really well, clocking over 4 hour stretches at night, basically waking twice a night for a feed. Some days he feeds more, which I suspect are times of growth spurts. Currently he has longer waking hours, he can hold his neck up really well, and is starting to follow movements with his eyes.

Everyone keeps telling me he will change as he grows, and this I know. Right now I’m just thankful for this phase and taking all that I can get, because I know what a fussy baby who does not sleep, who cries all the time, is like.

I’d forgotten how much you need to plan in advance before leaving the house with a newborn, trying to squeeze in a feed before leaving or else face a screaming baby in the car, getting the baby bag ready… now I had two more kids to prep. Once we did it a few times though, we got the hang of it. Although, if we go somewhere that is quite far, we have had to pull over just to feed baby, because if he’s hungry, he will scream till he is fed.

The girls

The girls are coping in their own ways with this new phase. J struggled the first week, as she kept asking me when I was going to play with her, sit with her, read with her and she also kept telling me that she loved me over, and over, and over again. She did the same when her younger sister was born as well. There was one heartbreaking moment around two weeks after we brought baby home where she just got really emotional, threw her arms around my neck and told me that she was worried about me…because I just kept sleeping, and having my own mini-breakdowns. Since then, she’s been back to her usual, 4.5 year old, sometimes annoying, always chatty and playful, self.

Z on the other hand has been acting out in different ways. Tantrums over random things are on the rise, her attachment to me has increased, and she’s also displaying violent tendencies toward her older sister (the other day she bit J’s finger so hard it bled). She just hit 2 so I know this is normal for her age, but it’s just compounded by having to contend with a new sibling in the house.

We, the parents, are barely scraping through. Trying to maintain our own patience in the face of SO MANY EMOTIONS has been tough, and to be honest, I know that I have had many, many bad parenting moments. Lots of shouting, and dramatic moments, using the TV to get things done, like feed my newborn, cook and clean have been my worst vices. Just this week I’ve made the conscious effort to keep myself calm in the face of Fight No. 1000 between the two girls in the one day, or a tantrum because Z doesn’t want to sleep. And I’m getting rid of the TV. That’s right. We are going cold turkey. Please pray for me lol.

Lastly…

Yes. Three kids is definitely tough. Slowly though, I feel like we are getting into a rhythm, and adjusting to this new phase. It helps that baby is sleeping well and feeding well, and I have nothing but gratitude. As with babies, I know things will change as he grows, and starts teething and so on, but as I said earlier, I’m taking whatever I can get now.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster, the physical recovery from labour, and adjusting to three children, I do feel that this postpartum period has been the easiest out of all my kids. Experience has definitely been a factor in this obviously, as has sleeping enough lol.

I feel a lot more comfortable and confident and I know that has made a big difference.

I’m looking forward to the next few months, and just enjoying having another baby in the house, especially knowing how fast it passes…

Mostly, I am incredibly thankful for all the loving and supportive and helpful people around me, without whom all this would be infinitely more difficult and challenging. Still, with all the support, there have been moments of sheer desperation, frustration, tears, where the mounting responsibilities of three children has felt so overwhelming. I know that there were many times where I didn’t cope with it all in the best way, and I’m learning from those mistakes and trying to move forward now. But honestly, watching my family grow, work together, cooperate, help each other and settle into a new phase is truly a beautiful gift. As is being able to kiss soft newborn cheeks 🙂

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Brightness is not a dim place on the horizon…

I remember the first night that I was in the hospital by myself with my new baby. My family had left, my husband included, as hospital policy (in a public hospital) did not allow the husband to stay overnight. I was alone in a vacuous hospital, lights dimmed, with the constant beeping of machines, other patients around me, separated only by a thin curtain. It was cold too, as the hospital had its air-con blaring.

I was alone for the first time with my baby. I was exhausted after a long and difficult labour. I felt like I’d been hit two trucks, not one. I could barely lift my arms up, let alone roll out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I literally needed my husband and a nurse to assist me to walk the few metres out of my room and around the corner to go to the bathroom.

It was in this state that I was now left alone with a baby.

All night my uterus churned as it shrank. In my delirious, exhausted state, I was convinced that a baby was still inside of me. That the doctors had made a mistake. And yet, I’d look over at the bassinet next to me and see the sleeping baby.

She was mine, right?

Was it she who had resided inside me just hours earlier?

Then what was this movement inside of me now? It really felt like a baby. Maybe I’d actually had twins and the doctors forgot him/her inside me. Of course, the doctors had told me that my uterus would shrink and I’d feel the pain, but my irrational state wouldn’t fully accept this explanation.

I also felt a strange disconnection from the real, out-in-the-world baby next to me.

At the same time I was petrified that I would not be able to keep her alive.

My newborn actually slept for 5 hours straight that first night (alas this was not to last over the next few weeks) and when she finally woke up, and I rang the bell for the nurse for assistance, she reprimanded me for “allowing” the baby to sleep for “that long”. Didn’t I know that I was supposed to wake her up at least every 3 hours to feed her?

Um. No. I didn’t know that I was “supposed” to do that, because this was my FIRST BABY and I HAD NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE, oh and NOBODY HAD TOLD ME WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO WITH HER. (Two babies later, I know that this nurse was actually incorrect. If a baby is sleeping, they should just be allowed to sleep, and feeding should happen on demand rather than trying to stick to a strict schedule. So not only did she reprimand me and make me feel guilty, she was actually wrong.)

So now I felt like my baby was possibly going to suffer because I hadn’t woken her up for a feed.

Then it came time to actually feed her, and the nurse stripped J of all her clothes and literally shoved her onto me repeatedly, pushing me into J’s mouth. Yes. IT WAS PAINFUL and traumatic.

When I came home the next day, J would not sleep at night for more than 10-20 minutes. I was still in pain from the labour, and in pain trying to breastfeed (she probably wasn’t latched on properly, but breastfeeding for me was excruciating for the first few WEEKS).

On top of this, J was not gaining weight properly. She wasn’t “thriving”. She had some mild jaundice. She was constipated and not passing stools for weeks at a time. And well-meaning relatives around me were constantly looking in and commenting and asking “why isn’t she gaining weight, etc etc…”

I remember sitting on my bed and looking down at my new physical self, with tears streaming down my face. Yes I got a baby out of this body, but I no longer recognised a single part of myself. Everything about me was just so different. I still had the weight that I’d gained from pregnancy, stretch marks crawled their way across my stomach, my chest had swelled from the milk… None of my clothes fit me. And when I did get dressed, I did not look like myself at all. I mourned my pre-baby body. I scolded myself for not appreciating it and constantly complaining about how I had extra chub here or there. I would never look like that unscarred, unmarked by birth, self, ever again.

I remember again, sitting on my bed looking out the window and feel a heaviness descend on me. Tears were rolling down my face. My husband came and simply sat next to me, put his arms around me.

Sometimes whilst sitting in J’s nursery with her in my arms, trying to rock her to sleep, the same heaviness would descend upon me and the tears would once again snake their way down my face. And again, well-meaning relatives would tell me, “you can’t be sad! It will affect her. You’ll pass on your anxiety to her. So be happy!”

Of course, this only exacerbated the guilt I felt for not “being happy” and wondering why I even felt this way, and that omg now it was affecting my baby, wasn’t I just a horrible mother!!

The thing is, I felt that I couldn’t quite comprehend nor grasp the momentous transition that I’d just experienced. I couldn’t believe the pain that I’d been through to birth this child, I couldn’t comprehend the physical separation, and I couldn’t cope with the intensity of my feelings for her, which mainly manifested itself in anxiety and fear over her health. Every little thing that did not “go right”, such as her sleeping, her feeding, her constipation, her slow weight gain…everything… I couldn’t be rational about it. I felt that it reflected my failure as a mother, because I didn’t even know what me as a mother looked like and I was terrified of hurting her in some long-lasting way.

When I think back to those initial months, I can literally feel the stifling heaviness and anxiety that I experienced.

When I had Z, I thought it would be easier given that I “had experience”. But I was to learn keenly the lesson that “every baby is different”, and therefore you have to change and adapt to them. Although it was easier to fall into the newborn cycle with Z, she also was not a good sleeper, had colic, fed for hours, and did not want to be put down during the day.

So most of my days with her were spent on the couch feeding her, with J watching TV for hours (even though I tried to set up ‘play stations’ for her), and the time in between carrying Z in a baby carrier and trying to cook, or clean, or play with J whilst my back suffered from the constant carrying of a 4kg baby. Come around 7pm, Z, overtired from a day of not sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a time, would scream for around 2 hours and nothing, nothing that I did would calm her.

Again, I felt that familiar heaviness. That creeping, uncomfortable anxiety that I wasn’t doing things right. That sense of fear and insecurity about the health of my newborn, and this time, of the boredom of my eldest and frustration that TV was the only way we could get through those early days.

Anxiety was not unfamiliar ground for me. A few years before having J I had experienced anxiety disorder and panic attacks for quite some time.

Maybe this history of mine meant that I was predisposed to experiencing post-natal depression of some form after giving birth. I had feared that I should expect it whilst I was pregnant with J, given my history.

The midwives would ask me those standard questions, where we’d have to tick off on a checklist how we felt, and this would determine, supposedly, how ‘depressed’ or ‘sad’ we were. I remember a midwife who came to visit us at home after J was born told me that I had the “blues”. She left it at that. She didn’t really tell me how to deal with it.

Looking back, I would tell that fragile-as-a-baby new mother to be easy on herself. I would tell her, yes, you have been through an incredibly harrowing event that will mark the timeline of your life, that will unalterably and significantly change who you are as a person.

I would tell her that it’s ok to mourn for her pre-mother self. But that slowly, vestiges of that self would slowly creep back in, only this time she would be coloured and brightened by a new self, a new role, a new mission that will guide every decision that she makes henceforth.

I, I’d tell her that things will get easier. In those early weeks, it feels like the days simply drag on and that your baby will never grow, never sleep, never settle.

I’d tell her that “the days feel long, but the years are short” my dear. And if only I knew then how quickly the years pass, how quickly the fussy newborns morph into children of strength, curiosity and brightness… I would tell her to cherish the soft soft skin, the untainted smell of baby, the wondrously small toes and fingers…

And difficult as it might seem, I’d tell her to cherish this time when there is no other responsibility in the world but to care for this baby… even though some of the time this knowledge itself can exacerbate the anxiety. There will be years ahead to dedicate yourself to things outside your children… there is only a small window of precious time when it is just you and baby…

Giving birth, regardless of how it happens, and bringing that baby home is an incredibly difficult, strange and challenging time. Without proper support (I’ve written about what support should look like before) it can be almost impossible to cope with. The physical separation of mother from baby is itself a contributing factor I believe to the post-natal depression that women experience.

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So to all mothers, mothers-to-be, mothers who have experienced the crippling anxiety and the weight of heaviness descend upon them during a time that is supposed to be the ‘happiest time of their lives’, I want to reach out and hug you, and tell you, it’s alright. I promise it will get better. Remind yourself to have shukr (roughly, ‘gratitude’) for the beautiful being you have helped to bring into the world. Steel yourself with positivity. And when you feel that sadness, accept it, let it wash over you, but know that it will pass. It does not mean you are a bad mother… it just means that you are human, and that you have just been through a surreal, yet completely natural transition, and yes, you will experience an array of feelings.

And that’s ok.

It’s ok.

Brightness is not a dim place on the horizon, you carry it within you, you carry it in the love that you have for your child… and this will carry you both through…

*Images via Akira Kusaka. Featured image is “Dawn” and second image is “Stray”.