My friend Michele finally came to pick up her dishes yesterday. She brought us a meal when Leone was just a few weeks old and her pots have been on our porch ever since.
Michele’s daughter is a freshman at Harvard.
“Enjoy this time,” Michele said. “It goes by so fast … She’s not a newborn anymore, you know.”
If Leone, who is almost two months old, is no longer a newborn, does that mean I’m no longer a postpartum woman?
Sometimes I find myself hobbling around, like I did the day after Leone was born, as if my body isn’t convinced that it’s all healed up.
For expecting moms and women just giving birth, here are some of the many weird but normal things to expect:
1. Lopsided breasts: When your milk comes in, your breasts may swell and harden like torpedos. Often one will be much bigger than the other (expect both to get huge).
2. Mood swings: If you had a difficult labor or if the birth did not go as planned, you may feel depressed, guilty, ashamed, or inadequate in the days and weeks after the baby is born. Or–especially if everything went smoothly–you may be elated, high on life, and madly in love with your baby and spouse. No matter how you feel just after the baby is born, your moods will oscillate wildly. Expect to go from ecstatic to miserable, often several times a day.
3. Sensitivity to smells: If your mother-in-law or a friend holds the baby and some perfume rubs off on the baby’s scalp, you may find yourself in a frenzy of disgust and upset. Your baby bonds to your smell and you to hers and you will find yourself sensitive to smells of all kinds.
4. Protectiveness: Some new moms don’t mind passing off the baby to friends and family to hold. With my first child, I found myself absolutely frantic with worry when anyone other than my husband held the baby. You’re hardwired to protect your baby and suddenly everyone and everything can feel like a threat.
5. Passing clots: One friend passed a blood clot the size of a fist and was sure she was hemorrhaging (she was fine). It’s no fun to bleed but remember all those months of not menstruating? Now you pay the price. If you have unusually heavy bleeding or fever or dizziness, call your doctor.
6. Irrational fears: The combination of exhaustion, changing hormones, sleep deprivation, and inexperience can make you terrified that something is wrong with the baby and irrationally scared at every new squeak, poop, and spit-up.
7. Conflicting emotions: You adore the baby but you feel put upon. You let someone watch her while you take a shower and then forget to wash the shampoo out of your hair because you miss her too much. You love your husband but you wish he’d go away. He leaves and you’re desperate for him to come back. You’re crying when you’re supposed to be happy. Postpartum women feel a lot of conflicting emotions.
8. Swollen labia and cauliflower-like hemorrhoids: Those nether regions are sore. “Oh girlfriend, your labia are hanging down to your ankles,” one nurse told a friend, “let’s get some ice on there quick.” If you have the baby vaginally, expect to be swollen and sore afterwards. And to have killer hemorrhoids. Ice packs, sitz baths, and eschewing toilet paper (use a spray bottle of water instead) all help.
9. Night sweats: A lot of liquid is leaving your body, via your breasts, your vagina, and also your pores. This doesn’t happen to everyone but if you wake up in a swimming pool of sweat, don’t worry. It’s weird but perfectly normal.
10. Ravenous hunger: It takes more calories to breastfeed than to grow a baby. Expect to be starving all the time.
11. Forgetfulness: When I emailed my friend in South Africa and asked her how life was in Australia, she said she’d only forgive me because I had “porridge brain.” Lots of research suggests that motherhood actually makes you smarter, but postpartum forgetfulness and aphasia (”Honey, could you take the diapers out of the d-d-d, whatever it’s called?”) are perfectly normal.