The Postpartum Body

I started working on this post when I was home with Frances, and it’s been sitting in my drafts for a while. I have my first post-baby-having well woman visit next week, and that has got me thinking once again about all things postpartum.

Bodies are such strange things and we (most of us anyway) have such complicated relationships with them. My body is not the same as it was before I had a baby, and mostly I’m okay with that, but sometimes I’m really not. I do feel stronger than I did before and like I have more endurance (this is not so much from birthing a child as from lugging her around for 13+ months), but, if we are being honest here, my stomach muscles are all stretched out from pregnancy and I don’t like that (although I don’t apparently dislike it enough to do something about it).

Anyway, here are a few observations from me on what happened once I stopped gestating a small human.

Cramps – You will have them in the week after giving birth, especially when the baby nurses, as your uterus contracts back down to its usual size. For me they were like the worst period cramps ever, which wasn’t very fun on top of the c-section pain. But at least it didn’t last TOO long.

Night Sweats – You body retains lots of extra fluids when you are pregnant and once you aren’t, it has got to get rid of all of it. My midwife warned me that I would probably have night sweats, and I’m glad she did, because I had them for weeks. I was glad to get rid of the fluid though, and finally get my normal, unswollen feet back.

Hair Loss – When you are pregnant, hormones keep your hair from falling out like it normally would, but once those hormones levels drop back to normal after the baby is born, all that hair that didn’t fall out for the last 9+ months has to go somewhere. For me the hair loss started at around 3 months and went on for a good 3 months. Sometimes I wondered how I even had hair left on my head (although you couldn’t really tell I was losing that much hair).

Bleeding – For me, one of the imagined benefits of pregnancy was getting to skip having a period for a long stretch of time. Yeah, instead it was like I had all the periods I had skipped while pregnant in a row. Most women bleed for 2-6 weeks after having a baby. I bled for 5 and half weeks. I feel annoyed just writing that now. And at the beginning there were clots. In the hospital I had a clot the size of a clementine. I got so freaked out I called the nurse and made her come look at my clot. AND  my period came back while I was weaning Frances. So not only was I still pumping away, I also had my period. It was decidedly not awesome. Boo, bleeding!

Mental Health – When I was home with Frances, I would have told you I was fine, but looking back now, I see how I wasn’t totally myself. I was tired, of course, but also anxious and worried and weighed down. Some days, it got overwhelming. There was a day, at the end of a week of nap strikes and overnight wake-ups, where I found myself sobbing on the floor after some conversation with Jami (about what now, I don’t know exactly). I called my midwives, and can I tell you.. they were awesome. They called back, they were genuinely concerned, they cared about me (this may sound obvious, but when you have a newborn there is a whole lot of caring about BABY and not a whole lot about you, especially in a stand-alone, you are person with needs, role). My midwife suggested sleep (don’t attempt to get things done when the baby is sleeping she said, just sleep. Any chance you can.) and sympathized (man, that sympathy went a long way). She described motherhood as relentless, which is the best description I’ve found, especially of those first few months. Even now, if it’s a rough day, I think… “relentless” and it makes me feel better and I forgive myself a little for not being perfect. For just muddling through. So this is just to say that fluctuating hormones and sleep deprivation are a powerful mix, and they can definitely make you feel blue.

Weight/Body Image – I worry that any discussion of weight will seem like “this is how it should be”, and I don’t want that to be the case, so this is all I’ll say about that: I gained weight while I was pregnant. It was a “healthy” amount, but I think that the amount that is “healthy” or “normal” is a wider range than the medical establishment generally allows for. I lost the weight slowly while at home without really doing much. And then gained about a third of it back when I returned to work and started eating junkier food. I’m pretty fine with my weight. I am less fine (as I mentioned above) with my stretched out stomach, but it what it is. Mostly I try to love my body for doing pretty much anything I want to do. That’s the level of fitness I am going for in life – to the extent that I can control it, I want to be in good enough shape to do whatever I want to do. I have read two things in the last year that I really liked that touch on Motherhood and body image, and I recommend them to everyone: Mom Stays in the Picture and I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.

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The Postpartum Body

6 thoughts on “The Postpartum Body

  1. An excellent post and a reminder of the sorts of things my partner went through with ours. Thank you for sharing “relentless”. That is exactly the way I feel! Some days it’s more relentless than others!

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  2. Janis Ansell says:

    The word “relentless” is an apt descriptor of parenting. The other “R” word I would add is “resilient” because mothering a growing person (or more than one) requires resilience in order to survive and even enjoy the experience (in hindsight if not in the moment some days).

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  3. It is relentless. There are days that I count the hours until bedtime. I also felt “off” for my entire maternity leave and if I am being honest until Z was about a year old. It is a huge adjustment. HUGE. I am also certain that my once very nice stomach will never be the same again (as a side note I went to swimming with Z yesterday and one of the moms was in perfect triathlete shape and I was insanely jealous and also laughed at myself because I have never been in the shape that she is in so who am I trying to kid that it has anything to do with childbirth). So many disjointed thoughts and feelings here, gah.

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    1. cransell says:

      Yes. I remind myself of that too when I start feeling jealous or inadequate. It’s a bit much to expect me to be in triathlete shape post-baby when I wasn’t in that shape pre-baby!

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  4. Cosmo Hooter says:

    Carrie — two thoughts to your very nice post. I am reminded of when Elena was just a baby and one evening when we had got her to bed and Sarah started to approach cleaning the kitchen and I grabbed her (in my memory I am the hero in this story) and said, “No — Sleep! Now!” The other thought is about being in shape. Whatever kind of shape you choose to be in, just remember you are going for the long haul. I didn’t start running until Janali was born, figuring I’d better get in shape if I was going to keep up with 3 kids, and didn’t start running regularly until she was in mid-school, figuring it’s only going to get harder as the years pile on. Yeah, I don’t think you have to strive for triathlete status, but finding something that will keep you going for those many years ahead that you want to be a part of Frances’ life is a good thing. Yeah, that’s motivation.

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