I already planned on writing about the postpartum subject, but it’s also been requested of me several times, so I wanted to go ahead and address it. Why? Because no one really wants to talk about what goes on with a woman postpartum, and when they do, it’s when you’ve already entered the mom club by announcing your pregnancy and for the most part it’s in hushed tones. This might be because it’s kind of gross and not pretty or glossy so it’s not the kind of thing you’re going to hear about in a Today Show segment. At least not in a way that’s going to be helpful to you down the road.
When I was thinking about exactly what I wanted to say about the postpartum body, I had a flashback about sitting in my elementary school library learning about how boys and girls are different and what a period is and why it happens. I left that discussion with a tiny little plastic bag with a pad and a pamphlet in it. I feel like they should have a similar class when you’re an adult before you ever consider getting pregnant, except this class will include cocktails and contraceptives. Someone should bring one of those shock machines that simulates contractions and they should hook you up to a breast pump just so you know what that feels like. You will be rewarded with cocktails once your penance has been paid to the pregnancy and postpartum gods.
I tried to find out about what postpartum life was like on the down low because it was kind of embarrassing (to me at least) to be a pregnant female and have no clue what I was getting myself into or what my body was going to be like once the baby was evicted from his water condo. Luckily most of my friends have been pretty candid with me about the days following childbirth (and a few of them are doulas) so I at least knew enough to buy some extra Tucks pads, make some panty popsicles (yes, seriously), and stock up on those giant pads they give you in the 5th grade when you’re learning about periods that they keep in the school nurse’s office.
In case you haven’t gathered, the rest of this post is going to be about vaginas, female blood, and leaky boobs. If those topics sound gross or don’t interest you, go reevaluate your interest in women. It is gross, but it’s also fascinating. The female body is capable of weird and awesome things.
People Are the Worst
I’m going to be straight up. I may not be the best person to give the true true on this subject. Or I might. It really depends on how you look at the situation. All births are different. No one birth is better or deserves a badge of honor more than the other. What is important is in the end, baby is here and he or she is safe. The reason I say I may or may not be the best person to give the down and dirty on this subject is because I don’t have a horror story to give you. Shocking, I know. But honestly nothing pissed me off more than someone telling me while I was pregnant, “I know so and so and they had their baby last week and that baby was 15 pounds and the mama she was no bigger than a bean pole and she had ninth degree tearing that ripped her all the way up to her ear lobes.”
For the love. If you are pregnant and your grandma, best friend, mama, mama’s best friend, cashier, stranger in Target, coworker, or whoever else tells you some stupid story like that feel free to tell them that you don’t appreciate it. Seriously, I had hardly gotten the words, “I’m pregnant” out of my mouth before a family member told me a story like that. Women. Stop doing this to each other. Every birth is different and yes…sometimes you get ripped a new one. But that’s not always the case.
Elasticity Isn’t Sexy
I did not tear, and I’m so thankful for that. If you want to know what that’s like, I can get someone to guest blog about it because it is important to know–that and about c-sections. I also did not get hemorrhoids, and I thank the powers that be everyday for that gift. As cheesy as it sounds, I went into my birth with the power of positive thought. This is not usually my M.O. In work and in life I usually suss out the worst-case scenario and work from that point backwards. But when it came to birthing my son, I was hopeful that I would not tear and I did everything I could to prevent myself from tearing. If someone suggested a remedy, I gave it a whirl. I did squats and perineum stretches. I took Hypnobirthing classes and learned deep breathing techniques, all of which I used during my labor. I also spent some of my time laboring in the water, which made my nether regions more elastic. And I swear it all helped. I don’t feel like I wasted my time doing any of those things. I did not tear. I think my midwife described what I had going on as road rash. And I could live with that.
Just because you don’t tear doesn’t mean that your vagina comes out of childbirth feeling unscathed. You will be swollen and there is nothing that can prepare you for what that looks or feels like. Everything expands during labor. I thought it was just the hole that the baby comes out of…but no. Everything. All of it gets bigger. So once baby is out, everything is just big and swollen and angry. It feels like what I can only imagine having a giant set of balls must feel like (mentally picture a baboon butt here). But everything down yonder is hard and tender and you have to sit on it. You will be offered ice. It sounds terrible, the idea of putting ice on your vagina. But it is glorious. Take the ice and pat yourself on the back for already having made panty popsicles before baby was born. You will waddle because of your new set of balls. Let someone help you to the toilet or shower or wherever you need to go. It will be humbling, but getting in and out of bed will hurt. Sitting will hurt. Lying down and sleeping will hurt. Basically you will feel like you were hit by a bus. You will be sore in places you didn’t even know could be sore. Take your Motrin* and whatever pain med you are offered. If you need to break your pain meds in half do that. Your baby will be fine. Don’t make yourself miserable thinking that Motrin is going to get into your breast milk and make your baby grow a third eye. Take the fucking Motrin or whatever you are given so you can move your body and take care of your baby.
*You’re entitled to think whatever you want to about your pain meds and breast milk, but I’m here to tell you that it’s fine. I would tell you that if you don’t take them then you are being dumb, but that’s a little aggressive. Oh wait…
Channeling Your Inner Feral Cat
Sometime after birth you will have to pee. You may or may not have a catheter. I did not and I was like a feral cat. I was willing to pee anywhere they would let me. Don’t judge because peeing will burn with the fire of a thousand suns and walking to get to the bathroom with your giant set of new balls will feel terrible. I peed on the flannel pad in the bed. I peed in the sitz bath. I peed in the shower. I peed everywhere. If my nurse told me it was okay to pee there, I peed. I was not a single bit ashamed and I felt better for it. The sitz bath is a gift from God, whether you are peeing in it or just using it for its intended purpose of soaking your girl bits. Breathe a sigh of relief and just relish in the warm water that’s helping your vagina get back to its sort-of original state. Thankfully because I did not tear I was able to take normal baths once I got home so I didn’t have to use the sitz bath for long, but it was lovely and mine is still in my bathroom closet. Just in case. But my nether regions started feeling more normal about two and a half weeks after birth (which is about how long I bled—give or take) and now I feel mostly fine–a little tender, but fine.
Oh God, I almost forgot about the pooping. Your first do-do after birth might give you PTSD if you delivered vaginally, but regardless of how you delivered, it will be terrible and possibly painful. You may vow to never go number two ever again. I refused to let my father-in-law come visit his grandson unless he came bearing a bottle of Colace. Much like peeing, that first poop is going to come whenever it comes and it may or may not be in the toilet. Embrace the weird because there ain’t shit you can do about it. See what I did there?
Enjoying Your Last Moments Before You’re On Your Own
This doesn’t have anything to do with your body directly. This is just a bit of advice because sleep is important, and if you labor for almost a full day you will need a nap in a bad way. Get some sleep while you’re in the hospital. I specifically chose the birthing center I was at because they let your baby stay in the room, and they don’t whisk them away to the nursery. I love that. I really do love it. But after 17 hours of labor and staying awake for another three to four hours after my son was born basking in his glory and visiting with people after a cat nap listening to his pops, squeaks, and grunts all night was enough to send me over the edge. I all but begged them to take him to the nursery. And that was the last good sleep I ever had. He’s a breastfed baby so they brought him to me every time he needed to feed.
Speaking of feeding, eat the hospital food. I was obsessed with it because it was the perfect amount of bland. I would still eat it everyday because for whatever reason, I could eat garbage while I was pregnant, but now that I’m not, I can’t even eat food that is properly spiced. Eat the food if you can. Let the nurses put your meds in your mouth. If they are good to you, get them a small token of your appreciation. Accept help while you have it. Take every single thing that isn’t nailed down home with you. Just assume if they have it in the hospital that you will need it. My favorite things I came home with are my official blue mom cup (which I’ve already broken because I can’t have nice things) and a giant bottle of blue Dawn dish soap.
You Will Probably Cry in the Mirror
These are all changes that you get hit with pretty much out of the gate. And truthfully, as insane as it sounds, I have kind of enjoyed the last few weeks. Call me a glutton for punishment, but all of the aches, pains, and general grossness make me feel like my body is really doing something and actively changing. And it is. But guess what? You will not look like Chrissy Teigen after you give birth and that is okay. For whatever reason, American women think looking like a model after birth is something that is attainable. It’s not and the fact that media has made us believe that is attainable is insane. If Chrissy can rock stretch marks you can too! Her hips are wider and she has stretch marks and you will too and that is still beautiful. Most of us didn’t have Victoria’s Secret bodies before we got pregnant anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my moments of thinking, “Holy shit, I will never look or feel normal again.” I’ve looked in the mirror and cried at the person that looked back at me. I’ve asked my husband if he still loves the way I look because everything has shifted. I am human and I have insecurities. I put on weight long before I got pregnant due to a couple of foot surgeries, so I’ve just accepted that I have a new “normal” for my body. I am, however, shocked at just how much my body has changed in a few weeks. I got hella huge at the end of my pregnancy due to swelling, so anything less than that physically feels better.
I ache in different ways, but if my hips don’t hurt ever again I consider that a win. I have night sweats and weirdly dry and itchy skin because of hormones. I purchased some pretty decent, inexpensive shape wear and have worn it some in the last few weeks, and I feel like that has helped my posture. It also helps put some compression on your busted uterus, and that is not a bad thing and it will help you look a little more like your normal self. I also asked my midwives for permission—don’t just go taking my advice. My torso and chest are riddled with purple stretch marks. I’m a little self conscious about them, but I know over time that they will fade. I also feel like I earned them. My skin was literally splitting apart to accommodate my baby. If that isn’t some superhero Hulk craziness, then I don’t know what is. If you need to feel good about your pregnancy stretch marks, I suggest you get on Instagram. There are some great, empowering profiles about motherhood and birth on there and they call them “tiger stripes.” I prefer to look at them that way. Also, if you hate them… save some money and find a good dermatologist and go get them lasered away. I’m a firm believer in doing whatever you need to do to love your body. Like I said, I’m breastfeeding, so I am pretty sure my boobs will never look or feel the same again. I’m not sure what I will do about that when I am done having children. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. They leak if my baby cries, I look at my baby, I take a shower, or I breathe the wrong way. As frustrating and painful as that can be (my letdown burns), for now I take comfort in the fact that I am sustaining a human life on boob power alone and that is crazy cool. And the production process to make that milk that is sustaining his life is breaking down stored fat from my butt and thighs. Thank you, science.
All in all, this new body doesn’t look like the body of 20-year-old me or even 27-year-old me. It shouldn’t. Am I sad about that sometimes? Yes, mostly because it makes me feel old. But it is still changing to accommodate the human I made, and now I have more reasons than ever to take care of myself. All of the weird, painful, and gross of the last few weeks just makes me feel like I’ve won some sort of battle with life. And that’s the truth.
Postpartum Disaster Relief Kit
- Giant pads
- Mesh underwear (If it were socially acceptable, I would wear these for the rest of my life.)
- Panty popsicles
- Tucks Witch Hazel Pads
- Colace (Combine these with whatever else makes you poop—i.e. COFFEE.)
- Sitz bath (Add unscented–very important–Epsom salts to make your bath even better.)
- Little squirty bottle
- Lip balm
- Lanolin (Very necessary because your nips will hurt if you are breastfeeding.)
- Breast pads (Leaking boobies is a real thing.)
- Your own baby wipes (Highly recommended because your nether regions are icky, your arms pits will stink, and you probably won’t get a shower when you want one.)