Postpartum, the fourth trimester, this is where we really make that transition from mom-to-be, from expecting into becoming. This is where so much of our motherhood begins, and for some reason I’ve been really reluctant to share anything about this stage.
I gave hints of it in my birth and breastfeeding blog posts, but I’ve never intentionally shared these stories from a perspective of mental health, physical changes and effects on my marriage. So, here we go into the unknown.
Motherhood changes who you are and how you think. Literally, pregnancy alters your brain chemistry and turns you into a mom biologically. (Adoptive moms get the privilege and responsibility to work at this transition on a conscious level- it’s a lot more work for you ladies and I commend you for it). Either way – who you are is affected by becoming a mom, no matter how you are blessed with a child. I think this is why moms struggle with their identity so much. Our brains, man…
Mentally, postpartum and motherhood broke me in a way that would build me up stronger than ever before. That didn’t happen until my third son was born. He was 4 months old when I was ready to be done, on the same day I was made new, baptized in the rain and given my life’s meaning.
I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I never had postpartum depression, but I have had depression during the postpartum period. It’s a different breast, but it’s not very different.
Deciding that mental health is a priority and an everyday necessity was a game changer for me. I’ve found ways to identify and overcome mu triggers. It seems that things change just as I’ve figured everything out, so it’s a lifelong journey, this getting to know myself.
I don’t feel like my mental wellbeing changed during the postpartum seasons, but rather what was there intensified. Highs were higher and lows were lower, but each child it became more extreme.
My boys are each 20 months apart. As soon as my youngest turned a year, and my mind and body felt okay, I would get pregnant again and the hormonal cycle would begin again.
For many of us, being a mom is the life step that completed us, for others it nearly ends us. For some it’s both. After Drew, my third and last, was born, it nearly broke me – first I wanted to die because of afterpains, then at 3 weeks postpartum I wanted to die because while passing a kidney stone, and at 4 months postpartum I just wanted to die…
My husband is still struggling to understand why I don’t want to be pregnant again, and it’s one of those things he knows he has to accept without understanding, and that’s okay. In marriage we don’t have to understand all the time, we just have to accept, respect, and stand by one another anyway.
I think the hardest challenge in postpartum for my mind and body was breastfeeding with my second and third.
With Desmond, my first, it all went so easily, I did have to change my diet to paleo to help heal his eczema and subdue his reflux. But my supply was never an issue, latching was never an issue, it all felt so easy.
The only supply issue I had while breastfeeding him was due to food poisoning while 5 weeks pregnant with my second. I became dehydrated and my supply dipped for a few days and I had to put him a milk alternative (he was already 13 months, so he didn’t NEED to be breastfeeding still, but I let him self-wean about a month later).
With my Dash, my second son, he was in the 1st percentile for weight at 2 months old because of an undiagnosed frenulum tie. He was 100% formula fed by 4 months old. I finally gave up trying to breastfeed him when I realized I was spending more time pumping milk for him than I was holding him. I was power pumping every hour and only getting 2 oz in an entire day, at that rate I didn’t see the point in adding so little milk to his formula.
That was the hardest hit emotionally. To come from such ease with breastfeeding my chunky little Des to borderline failure to thrive with my skinny bug eyed Dash, that hurt. The mom-guilt was heavy at that time. But I had to feed the kid and move on.
It taught me to be aware with Drew. We diagnosed his tongue tie at 1 week old because we were monitoring his weight from the start. We caught it really early on that he wasn’t gaining what he needed to. I started pumping for him right at the beginning to manage my supply. I didn’t feel guilty when we switched to mostly formula at 10 months and he self-weaned at 1 year. I did the best I could and I felt no shame or guilt – that was a good place to be mentally.
As far as physically, beyond breastfeeding, I adjusted well to my postpartum body. I’ve never in my life tried to lose weight – it’s always been the opposite for me. I’ve had to work hard to keep weight on and it’s been a journey you don’t hear a lot of women talk about – for fear of shame and ridicule from others – unless they are recovering from a severe eating disorder.
Not that my milk boobs are gone, my body is pretty normal, better even than before pregnancy. Sure, I have stretch marks and scars to show for my time spent incubating human beings, but it’s my own fault for never moisturizing my growing body. I’m learning to embrace my tiger stripes, they are a mark of what my body has done.
There was one big body change for me in postpartum though, and that was mostly due to PTSD after my first delivery. It was 8 months before I could enjoy being intimate with my husband again. And that’s totally normal if you deal with that. Getting through it meant I had to look at the root issue – my fear of pregnancy and pain – to overcome this mental block that was having physical repercussions, and stepping into my marriage.
Having kids brought out our conflicts, but addressing them and exploring my own mental health has healed them. Every single issue I have with my husband is because I get upset when he acts the same as I do. I project my weaknesses onto him and when he shows his anger, I get angrier because I hate confronting my own anger – see how that doesn’t make a lot of sense? Pride is also a problem starter.
By accepting my own faults, I don’t get mad when I see them in him. I can accept him for who he is, when I accept myself for who I am. Even better, I can help him overcome the same obstacles that I’ve worked hard on.
Also, gratitude. Always take time to remember what you love about him from the start and find new things too. Becoming a dad is just as tough of a transition as becoming a mom, just totally different. It’s a whole different set of stresses we don’t understand. Let him know you appreciate him and find out your love languages to help with showing each other the right kind of affection.
Anything else you want to know about my postpartum journey, motherhood or marriage tips? Ask in the comments!