When I had my first son, born via C-section over two years ago, my husband and I were so shell-shocked by the sleep deprivation and his unbearable colic that we basically sleepwalked through four and a half months, barely hanging on. Recovery was extremely difficult, but I’m not sure how aware of it I was. I was too strung out to notice the roller coaster I was precariously strapped into.
Our second son, born just 13 days ago, presented us with a new perspective. When you have a toddler to care for, you have no choice but to function like a semi-normal human being. Because now you have two lives to look after, in addition to your own. Sleeping while the baby sleeps (as seldom as that happens with the first kid…) is laughable. Self-care goes right out the window. And ordering Thai or Indian food day in and day out isn’t really an option, unless you want your serial picky eater to starve for a few months.
So whether I like it or not, my life postpartum this second time around is in full-swing and I am keenly aware of everything that is occurring – thanks in large part to bottomless cups of coffee and tea.
With C-section number two comes unrelenting pain. Pain while just sitting. Pain while trying to get off the couch or out of bed. Pain while lifting the baby to feed him, and on top of that, excruciating pain while he nurses and my uterus contracts over and over to begin its awkward journey back to its original size.
Then comes the emotional pain. There is nothing more heart wrenching than not being able to pick up your two-year-old because of a fresh incision, held in place by 20 staples. When my toddler is sad or wants a hug, or needs to be put to bed or bathed, I can do nothing more than attempt to kneel to his level and snuggle while wincing from my aching abdomen. I want to grab him and hold him tight, but all I can do is wait for someone else to gently place him on my lap. I worry that this separation, while it will be brief in the grand scheme of things, will cause a more permanent schism between us. He was my first, after all, and I don’t want the birth of another child to make him feel replaced or unwanted, (especially since mommy can hold the new baby, and not him).
The early days of my first baby are so foggy that I can’t even remember how we handled breastfeeding. I remember it being painful in the beginning, but the details are lost to countless sleepless nights. This time my milk came in with a vengeance. My newborn, born just past 36 weeks gestation, could not handle what I was producing. I was left with engorged breasts, rock-hard and aching for relief. Pumping, cold compresses, and the old wives’ remedy of cabbage in the bra all came out en force. I quickly noted how little you care about looks or dignity when your boobs are leaking and in pain. You will do anything to feel better, and you don’t care what you look like. It was only after walking around my kitchen, with half-filled bottles of milk hanging from my chest after a pumping session, that I even realized the curtains were open. Any neighbor in a nearby house could have easily gotten a glimpse of our new normal. And I really couldn’t care less…
Five days after little man was born, the hormones kicked me while I was down and escorted in a barrage of emotion I wasn’t quite prepared to handle. Sadness, depression, fear, love, and despair seemed to swirl round and round, sending me into a tizzy. I found myself yelling at my toddler because he wouldn’t eat his dinner, which caused a tsunami of guilt to wash over me and send me running into the next room crying uncontrollably. Feeling like an awful mother, unable to handle anything, I sat on the couch and just let the postpartum depression dig its claws into me until it had nothing more to hold onto. It passed after a day or two, but now I am aware that it can pop up, unexpected and unwanted, at the drop of a chicken nugget on the floor or the wail of hunger at 2 a.m.
This is postpartum. It is messy and ugly and scary and exhausting. There is so much love that you can barely handle it. There is despair. And no, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, there is hardly a rainbow to be seen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s just hard. And if you know anyone who has given birth recently, it’s important to know these things. Because the last thing a new mom (no matter how many kids she already has) wants to hear is how much she should be loving these first few months. Because when you’re barely hanging on, and you stink like some Eastern European dish from the wilting cabbage stuffed in your bra, you just want to know that your family and friends are there for support, and not making you feel like a terrible mother for not reveling in newborn bliss. The bliss will come. This I know, because I have my toddler to show for it. But for now, we’re all in survival mode, and that has to be ok.