An honest look back in time.
My daughter was born on November 13, 2015. This means that the holiday season brings about a new kind of nostalgia for me. Every Thanksgiving, I think back to that first Turkey Day with a barely two-week-old where my husband and I refused to go to anyone’s house for fear that she would catch the flu. Every time we decorate the tree and pull out the first ornament we got to commemorate her birth, I think back to the first time we decorated the house with our new baby. It took almost two days to finish because we had to keep taking breaks for her to breastfeed and rest. Every Noche Buena (Christmas eve), I think back to how I mostly spent it in my sisters-in-law’s bedroom trying to breastfeed or put our daughter down for a nap. Every Christmas day, I think back to our first Christmas as a family of three, wearing our pajamas and the Chinese food tradition was born. Finally, every New Year’s Eve, I think back to our first new year’s eve with our daughter, where we all fell asleep around 8:30 but still got to hear the fireworks from her bedroom because she woke up every 2 hours to feed.
Aside from these holiday memories, there are other moments that will be forever burned into my mind as a first-time mom in those beginning scary, exciting, unstable, and exhausting first days of motherhood.
INEXPLICABLE CRYING I can only assume it was the sudden drop of hormones after giving birth, but I would literally cry for no apparent reason for the first 4 days after my daughter was born. I did NOT cry when the doctor first placed this beautiful little creature in my hands, I think I took some time to process what that actually meant, but I cried for almost everything else. I remember the lactation consultant coming into the room and cheerfully asking how I was feeling, only to see me burst into tears that I had no control over.
BREASTFEEDING Asking every living person to watch me breastfeed! I have always been fairly reserved about showing too much skin but the day I started breastfeeding my child, I realized that I had no clue what I was doing! I also realized that this was much harder and stressful than I had anticipated. Who would have known that something so natural and important was going to require this much concentration and effort! I also recognized that this was important to me, this was something I wanted to do. So, for me, this meant asking for advice from anyone who was willing to give it. I demonstrated my technique to my OBGYN, daughter’s pediatrician, mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, friends, and anyone else who wanted to show me how it was done. For the first couple of days, I always asked the same question, “does that look like milk to you or colostrum or something else?” For the next few months, I always asked, “am I doing this right? Does it look like she’s swallowing? How much do you think she drank?” Needless to say, I lost my fear of “showing too much skin” pretty quickly.
ANAL INCONTINENCE I had NO IDEA that this was a possible side effect of a vaginal delivery! It is not super common but not so rare that it shouldn’t be talked about. The degree of incontinence can vary depending on the hours of labor, tearing during delivery, and other factors. In my particular case, I had no control over passing gas for about 4 days and had to run to the bathroom when I felt the need to have a bowel movement for about 2 days. However, for some mothers, this can persist much longer and be more severe in discomfort. Doctors and mothers should really warn the newbies about this, another motherhood surprise.
FORGETTING TO EAT I gained 40 pounds during my pregnancy and was fortunate to have kept a very healthy appetite, unperturbed by nausea for 9 out of the 10 months (my second month of pregnancy consisted of mostly broth, chicken nuggets, and macaroni and cheese). I assumed that I would retain my appetite after giving birth, especially while breastfeeding. However, I was so unbelievably overwhelmed by my new job title as “mother”, that I would actually forget to eat and drink. After about 3 days at home on my own (my mother was able to help me for about a week after giving birth but eventually had to return to work), my husband became concerned with my lack of eating and started to leave work early just to bring me lunch. I eventually found my footing and was able to follow a schedule that allowed me to meet my needs as well as my newborns, but this was not something that came easily, and to say that motherhood was a shock to my previous lifestyle is an understatement.
FEAR OF SEX Let me begin by saying, without going into too many details, that my husband and I have been lucky to have a very healthy, active, satisfying, and understanding physical relationship. For me, the physical act of intimacy is important and necessary in our relationship, which is why I was torn during the beginning of my motherhood between feeling the need to connect with my partner physically and being terrified to actually do it. Again, without giving too much information, my body went through some serious trauma during delivery and I had to give myself time to heal. The healing process was uncomfortable and painful, which made me hesitant to cause any more pain or discomfort anywhere near that area of my body. Still, we eventually found our rhythm again and I am happy to say have returned to our previously healthy physical relationship. However, here are some takeaways from that first stage of finding ourselves physically again:
1- TALK: As my OBGYN liked to say to me, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. You don’t have to start with vaginal penetration. There are A LOT of steps and fun things to do the first time around that can help you feel more comfortable. Let your partner know before you start that this might just be a movie trailer instead of the featured film.
2- LUBRICATION: I had never used lubrication before this time and honestly didn’t even know where to find it. I was eventually directed to CVS and was surprised to find it right next to the pregnancy tests, which I had obviously bought before. Then I was even more relieved when I found it at Publix. You will definitely need it and will be so glad you invested in this. My personal favorite is KY Warming Liquid although a lot of people swear by Astroglide. Now it’s something I always keep handy.
3- PREPARE YOURSELF: The first time, postbirth, will certainly be uncomfortable and will more than likely be painful as well. Don’t push yourself beyond your limit, use lubrication, it shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle. I remember feeling pain at the beginning of sex for at least 6 months after giving birth and then a small pinch at the beginning of sex for another 8 months. I remember my daughter was over a year old before I didn’t feel anything other than pleasure. This will vary from person to person, but the act of sex, under the right circumstances, will be pleasurable and painless once again.
4- PREPARE YOUR PARTNER: Within this new role of motherhood, every aspect of your life will be affected, that includes sex. Some things may become off-limits for you now and some things may have to be altered. No one is a mind reader and you have to communicate. As much as all of this is new to you, it’s new to your partner as well. Taking it slow the first few times might be the best plan of action. Just pretend your teenagers and start with some fully dressed making out. It’s actually much hotter than it sounds. Word of caution: if you’re breastfeeding and doing this act facing your partner, he is officially in the “splash zone”. You WILL leak breast milk.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION I left this one for last because it was the one aspect of raising a newborn that affected me the most. I completely underestimated how much of a toll this would take on my personality and day to day functioning. If you take some time to do some reading on the ways that sleep deprivation can affect a person, you will find that it disturbs your lifestyle in some pretty significant ways. For example, it slows down your ability to process and retain information, which for someone who is learning to be a parent for the first time can pretty frustrating. It can lead to depression, which if you are already struggling with postpartum psychological issues can aggravate these symptoms. It can also cause weight gain, which no new mother wants to deal with. Still, I find that if we can make ourselves aware of what could come, that awareness helps us find the tools we need to win the fight.
Fun fact, Wikipedia listed the following methods as a form of physical or emotional torture within a list of some pretty heinous acts; severe stress, isolation, dehydration, sleep-deprivation, and starvation. Although they didn’t mention chapped nipples, involuntary cramping, stitches in sensitive areas, and feeling like you have to endure it all with a smile on your face, feel free to add those to the list as well. In short, your first few weeks as a mother will not be easy. But, don’t let that discourage you! Motherhood has been the most amazing experience of my life. It has made me a better human being, taught me to love openly without fear or conditions, and has given my life a deeper purpose.
However, all of that good does not wash away the fact that it is the most demanding and taxing thing I have ever done. It also doesn’t change the fact that those first 2-3 months are borderline unbearable. However, I strongly believe that information and preparation can alleviate almost any stressful situation. Don’t go into or endure the “fourth” trimester with the same naivety I did. Be prepared and know that this is only a brief moment in time that will be followed by some pretty amazing ones.