There is a fourth trimester of pregnancy and frankly, I found it to be the most difficult period in my entire pregnancy. In my experience as a first-time mom, the morning sickness and uneasiness in the first trimester; the odd cravings in the second trimester; the fatigue, nausea, frequent bathroom breaks, back pains, insomnia, heartburn in the third trimester — all these pale in comparison to the sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and above all, the mental and emotional toll of the fourth trimester.
When my son was born, I was the happiest I have ever been. Sure I was exhausted from the 20 hours of labour with over 2 hours of pushing (only to end up in a vacuum delivery); but as soon as my doctor placed my son on my chest and I heard his cry, I felt an instant burst of love, excitement and elation. All I wanted to do was hold my baby, hug him and never let him go.
The next 24 hours at the hospital felt like a breeze because the doctors, nurses and residents were all caring and supportive of me; and they all attended to my and my baby’s needs. As soon as I was cleared to take my baby home, I felt even more excited because, at last, the life that I have been imagining ever since I found out that I was going to be a mom is finally here. Not having any idea about the fourth trimester, I did not know that everything was now going to be so different.
Of course I knew that it was not going to be easy. I heard the comment “you will never sleep again” multiple times when I told people that I was pregnant. In my mind, all the sleepless nights that I had when I was in school prepared me for this.
I was wrong.
Sleepless nights in school are far from sleepless nights with a newborn. But initially, I believed otherwise — and so I had the wrong expectation that I would mostly be awake and exhausted as I take care of my newborn but that I would be fine.
Besides the physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation, what was really difficult to deal with and what I was not ready to manage, was the mental and emotional anxiety postpartum brings. I did hear and read about baby blues, postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression as part of my preparation for motherhood, but I always told myself that I am probably not going to end up having any of these because I am generally a happy and positive person. Fortunately, I never had issues with my mental health and I was confident that baby blues, PPA, or PPD wouldn’t hit me.
I was wrong, again.
I remember the nights when I was awake with my son as he breastfed. He would stare at me with his innocent eyes and I would look at him and all I could think of was “you changed my life forever, and I don’t know if I am okay with it.”
My thoughts centred around the fact that just a few days ago, I could spend so much time with my husband (watch our favorite shows on Netflix, prepare dinners together, eat together, shop for groceries together, etc.); I could read my favorite books; I could chat with my friends anytime I want; I could go out for dinner — I had time for myself and I could do the things that I wanted. I thought about how I had to put my career to a halt because now I had to take care of him. I felt like I had to live this life that was no longer for me, but for someone else. The tears would then roll down my cheeks.
I spent many a night feeding my son and then suddenly just start bawling. Sometimes I knew why I was crying but most of the times I didn’t. I just felt confused with all the thoughts in my head and felt isolated even if my husband was next to me.
Then there were the nights when I would just wake my husband up, hand him our son, and tell him “take him from me because I can’t take care of him.” There was a time I did that while my baby was crying because he was so hungry. I did not want to feed him. I told my husband “give him formula if you want.”
Though the nighttimes were the hardest and loneliest, the days weren’t any better. In the mornings, I would cry again and feel terrible about how I was from the previous night. I would hate myself for having the thoughts that I was having from the night before. I would hate myself for feeling so selfish when my baby needed me the most. I would hate myself for not being excited about this life even if I wanted it for so long. I would hate myself for not enjoying the time with my baby when I knew I could never get that time back. I would feel ever so guilty, so then I would hug my baby, apologize to him, shower him with kisses. I would not want to let him go until I broke down again at night. My thoughts would go back and forth like this and it continued on for weeks.
During one of my visits to a breastfeeding clinic, after checking my son the nurse turned to me and asked how I was feeling. I told her “I’m doing well” but then all of a sudden I broke down. I opened up to her about what I was really feeling and told her that every day I have thoughts that I’m not a good mom. She gave me a hug and told me everything that I was feeling is normal and that it was ok to feel that way. The hormonal imbalance after delivery had a lot to do with all the baby blues and anxiety I was feeling. She said baby blues could last about 6-8 weeks postpartum. She had been doing the job for over 10 years and she had met a lot of new moms. Almost everyone goes through what I was going through and she advised me to take it easy on myself because she knew that I was doing the best job of taking care of my son. That conversation stuck with me although the baby blues, as well as my anxiety, continued on for several more weeks.
Now I consider myself lucky because my baby blues did not turn into something worse. I am also able to manage my anxiety a little bit better by taking a little bit of time for myself. Whether it’s a 5-minute meditation exercise or a whole hour of workout, it’s been helping me get back to feeling like myself again.
I worked myself back into a workout routine. I was pretty active pre-pregnancy . During my pregnancy, I also stayed active as much as possible by working out and practising prenatal yoga. Post-pregnancy, it was tough to get back to my workout routine. I couldn’t lift weights and train as hard as I used to. But with the help of my husband who is a certified personal trainer, I gradually went from doing a few bodyweight exercises to doing hour-long workouts again.
The support from my husband and my family also helped a lot. I turned to support groups through an app on my phone and I constantly shared my thoughts and feelings on there as well. The support from that community, even if we are all strangers to each other, is so strong that it helped me navigate through my emotions much better. Moms empowering each other!
I think in those first few weeks with a newborn the most important thing is to have a very strong support system because otherwise it may lead to a very unhealthy path which could be dangerous not just for the mom but also for the baby.
I’m extremely glad that I was able to get through those rough times and prevent myself from sliding further into a dark place. Now I can honestly say that I feel like myself again. Motherhood has different challenges for me at this point but at least I’m in a happier headspace and I’m able to enjoy every second with my little one.
Note: If baby blues last longer than the 6-8 week mark and the feelings (self-hate, self-pity, not feeling connected to baby, regrets, not seeing past the newborn phase) become much stronger, talk to your doctor and seek help as you might be diagnosed with PPD.
What’s your postpartum story? Leave a reply or send me an email. It helps to share/vent. 🙂