Postpartum is So Messed Up
I’m knee-deep in the 4 th trimester. You know that one you see on Instagram and in the movies with women blissfully cuddled up with their newborn baby. A soft glow around them (thank you filters!) Their skin looking flawless. Their boobs are ginormous and their soft, curvy bodies starting to resemble whatever they had going on pre-pregnancy. I’m there. Except I’m not there. I’ve been blessed with twins. The first 17 days of my postpartum journey was spent shuttling back and forth to the hospital because my girls came almost six weeks early and needed help eating, breathing, and keeping their hearts beating – you know, critical skills a human needs to perfect. My body doesn’t resemble anything close to what it did before. Let’s rewind for a second.
Twins! Yes twins! Two hearts beating. Two humans growing inside me. It’s a shock I never expected, but also totally expected at the same time. Just like winning the lottery, I always wished I would have twins but with no twins in my family, I never actually thought it was realistic. Twins meant this pregnancy was going to be very different from my first. I got really big really fast. I went off work on medical leave at 24 weeks. I spent months in bed taking it easy trying to keep these babies in as long as I can. As you can imagine, I spent a whole lot of time thinking about finally meeting my girls and the blissful post-partum period. This picture-perfect image was shattered when my water broke at 34+5 weeks, the day after my oldest daughter’s birthday. After a handful of semi-painful contractions, we arrived at the hospital an hour later to find that I was 8-9 cm dilated and I had a bum and a foot in the birth canal. A breech baby around here means an immediate C-section, so off I was rushed to the OR. I’m still bitter about this.
Like, come on! I was 8-9 cm dilated after an hour of painful but manageable contractions. That’s a dream labour! I could have popped these babies out no problem. But I digress, that was not my destiny. My vision of helping to deliver my twins and that immediate moment of skin to skin contact was shattered when I realized they were coming too early. That moment of curling up snuggling my twins changed to an extremely painful C-section recovery and two babies in incubators with machines reminding their hearts to beat and their lungs to take a breath.
So let’s talk about it - how messed up this whole childbirth and postpartum period is. First, let me just say that women are effing incredible! What we go through to bring a new life to this world is nothing short of magical. And we deserve to be celebrated for this sacrifice. And it is a sacrifice. We watch our bodies expand and feel those twinges and kicks inside us that reward us for this sacrifice. Then we have to go through an excruciating process to push a fully formed human out of our key hole. Talk about a design flaw! Or, sometimes we have to or we opt to have the middle of our bodies cut open surgically and have our babies pulled from us. We lay our bodies down literally and figuratively to bring these tiny humans into the world. It is the most privileged, brave, spiritual, and emotional experience and one I’m incredibly proud to be a part of. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Our bodies are stretched to their limits and often beyond their limits. I was massive and measuring at 53 weeks pregnant when I delivered. The human body is not supposed to stretch that far and I have the tiger stripes to prove it. Suddenly when it’s all over we have these precious little humans we have to keep alive. Meanwhile we’ve got icepacks on our vaginas just so we can sit down. We can’t walk standing upright or cough or pass gas without holding a pillow to our stomachs. Our bodies are slowly deflating. Don’t even get me started on the dreaded fundal massages, which are absolutely nothing like a real massage. But through it all, we have to keep this tiny person alive. We’ve just been through the most traumatic experience, regardless of how we delivered, and we need to rest. But we have to push through, because that’s what Moms do.
Our breasts are responsible for feeding. What a massive responsibility for a part of the body that was nothing more than ornamental before. We are going through an entirely new experience and learn this important new skill but yet, it’s all on our boobs and the baby to run the show. If you think the moment you get stitched up is the end of people poking and prodding your private bits, you’re wrong. There’s a parade of nurses and lactations consultants who want to get up-close and personal with your nipples, and a tiny leach who is trying to suck whatever they can out of you. Suddenly you have a whole host of problems with your nipples you never knew existed! One’s larger than the other, one points down, one is slightly inverted, one is too high. Nobody ever complained about them before, but yet here we are with a group of nurses discussing the best way to overcome these “nipple issues”. It’s enough to give anyone a complex. What a massive responsibility for someone who is recovering from such massive trauma.
And what support do we have? While we’re in the hospital we have our nurse or doctors to talk to, but what happens when we get home 24-48 hours after birth? We have our partners, friends, and family. But in the middle of the night when that baby is screaming and your partner is snoring beside you, you’re all alone to give that baby what it needs. Well you and Dr. Google.
Unless you still count your age in days or weeks, no doctor wants to see you until you’re healed – physically at least. The Mental trauma is a completely different blog post and maybe I’ll be brave enough to broach that someday. This is why it’s so important to build a network around you while you’re pregnant. Online support groups, Facebook groups with other mommas giving birth the same month as you, finding other mommas locally, and in my case, reaching out to every twin mom I’ve ever known for advice and reassurance that I can survive the tsunami heading my way.
I’ve had too many moments sitting in bed in the middle of the night. Tears streaming down my face and breastmilk streaming down my soft, deflated belly. Feeling like an utter (see what I did there) failure. I have two babies who don’t latch. How is my best friend or husband supposed to help me? If the team of nurses couldn’t help, what good is my shell-shocked husband going to be? We’ve worked it out now -I’m hooked up to a pump constantly and am relying on science and the generosity of other mommas with an oversupply to keep my girls healthy. I’m eternally grateful for the options I have, but that doesn’t make it easy. Admitting you’re failing at the one thing your body is supposed to do is another knock to the mental postpartum game.
But where do those beautiful, airy photos you see depicting the precious postpartum period fit in? Listen, all those mommas are dealing with the same issues. They’re bleeding just like the rest of us but they just fake it for a second. I’m guilty of it too. If you look at my Instagram feed it’s full of beautiful and classic twin shots. Everything I envisioned. What I didn’t envision was lifting the skin on my stomach and putting a cotton pad in my spare tire flap to keep my incision dry. Reporting to a doctor triumphantly that I finally farted. Or the massive amounts of blood flowing out of me while trying to have a conversation with my Mother-in-law. Postpartum is so messed up!
And then there’s the hormones! Nine weeks out and I’m still in maternity clothes. I’ve got acne that would rival my teenage years. The hair growing out of my chin is on speed. My hair is falling out at an alarming pace. My tits are sore, my stomach is sagging, and my back is screaming. I cry at the drop of a hat. None of this is glamorous! We go from thick luxurious locks to looking like we’ve been electrocuted within weeks. From everyone commenting on how beautiful and glowing we are, to looking at us with pity and asking how many hours of sleep we’re getting. Well the bags under my eyes are telling you it’s not that much, aren’t they?
But here’s the thing. Some of us sign up willingly to do it again (and again, and again). And why is that? Because it is a privilege to be responsible for these tiny humans. Because those moments when you are faking it actually bring you joy when you look back on them. Because just when you’re starting to come out of the newborn fog they flash you that goofy gummy smile and your heart cracks wide open. Because amidst the pain and confusion of those first few weeks, there’s a beauty that emerges too. Hold onto that beauty because eventually when the stitches heal, and you can make it through a sad commercial without crying, all you’ll be left with are those beautiful moments.
Kelly is a founding MotherNation member, career woman and mother of (almost) three. She lives in Canada with her husband and children and has spent the past 10 years advocating for herself and women’s rights. If you want to keep up with the Baileys, check her out on Instagram @Kelly_e_bailey.