Bouncing back to regular life post-partum: why I'll never do it again
I had a serious punch-in-the-gut introduction to being a mom. After nine months of a healthy pregnancy where I peacefully contemplated the miracle growing inside me (see: Pregnant Women are Smug), life was probably gleeful at the opportunity to give me a nice reality smack.
Delivery left me with a fourth degree perineal tear (if you don’t know what that is and have a strong stomach, look it up), so I couldn’t walk or sit, or really move at all. Breastfeeding hurt SO MUCH and the baby wasn’t latching right. I remember lots of tears, both the baby’s and mine.
Despite being a total mess, I had a rising urge to impress people by “bouncing back” after delivery. Strong women conquer childbirth and get back to regular life. Isn’t that the kind of thing women are praised for?
“Look at her, hair and makeup all done. She looks great. And to think she just had a baby!”
“Wow, your house is immaculate. And to think you just had a baby!”
“She’s already back into her Cross-fit routine. And to think she just had a baby!”
“She’s coming to the potluck and bringing the new baby. She even signed up to bring her famous homemade chiles rellenos, and she’s volunteered to help with cleanup. And to think she just had a baby!”
To all these voices, externally and internally, I say curl up and die.
Physically and emotionally recovering from delivery and bonding with the new baby is ten thousand times more important than having dunned up hair, an immaculate house or showing up to social events. Childbirth is natural, yes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hugely traumatic event for the body – fourth degree tear or not.
Other cultures seem to honor postpartum recovery and baby bonding more than the US. Balinese mothers are not allowed in the kitchen for seven days after birth, and mothers in China and Mexico take a month to rest after delivery, according to a recent Daily Beast story.
I pushed back my urge to get back into “regular life” successfully after Baby G’s birth – for a little while. After about 10 days of intensive breastfeeding practice and painstaking care for my birth injuries I thought I had it all under control. So I started going shopping, attending family events, going to church, cooking and taking day trips.
It was a bad idea. I was fatigued, but I pushed through, thinking that’s what a strong woman would do. I developed a kidney infection from not taking care of my body. A few weeks later, I developed mastitis for the same reason. So painful and so unnecessary.
Next time around (God willing), I plan to follow the advice I read on the Internet and scoffed at before Baby G was born: spend a week in bed, a week on the bed, and a week around the bed. Even if that means asking for help to care for older children. This is not only for my physical and emotional well being, but it’s a chance to slow down and cherish the sacred times of holding my teensy newborn baby. So much of the mother/baby relationship is established in those constantly suckling, skin-to-skin moments in the first weeks.
This is difficult for us women with type-A, busy, need-to-be-approved-of-and-admired personalities, as blogger Stephanie from Keeper of the Home writes.
It’s not our fault, ladies. Our culture gushes over us for shutting up, getting up and showing up. It helps too if we’re easy on the eyes.
With the next birth, I hope to impress no one. In fact, if people judge me and are wholly unimpressed by me, then maybe I’m doing something right. Maybe I can even get the peanut gallery to think or say something like this:
“She had a baby three weeks ago and we haven’t heard from her since. She’s probably being super fat and lazy and just laying around with her baby.”
We can’t change society’s attitude toward postpartum recovery and baby bonding overnight. But we can start by giving each other – and ourselves – a break.