The immediate days and weeks after a baby is born are full of adjustments. It is such a short time frame, though, that it’s easy to forget some parts of the experience.
In fact, research has found that as time goes on, mothers do start to forget the intense struggle of child birth and postpartum. Two months after birth, a Swedish study found that moms still remember vividly how much childbirth hurt and the pains (physically, mentally, and emotionally) that accompanied the postpartum period. They then contacted those same mothers five years after child birth and found that most of them rated their pain from that birth as less severe than they had rated it two months after birth.
So does time heal all wounds? It seems as though mothers forget the exactly how they felt in those first few months of their baby’s life. Not only is childbirth rated as less severe, but many mothers report that they had forgotten what it was really like to have a newborn until their next baby comes along. Is that Mother Nature’s way of tricking us into having more babies? After all, if we forget all about the sleep deprivation, the pain of recovery, and the completely overwhelmed feeling we seem to have for months on end then we will be more likely to procreate once again, right?
For some of us, it’s not that we can’t quite remember. It’s more that sleep deprivation took such a stronghold over us during this time that our memories are somewhat fuzzy. And like most things, you may remember a day or a moment and you can generally gauge how you were feeling- but that exact feeling might not come over you until you are experiencing a similar situation all over again.
“I forgot what it was like to be sleep-deprived,” said Lauren, a mom of three, after staying up all night with her sick child. “Now I distinctly remember holding onto the countertops to walk through the kitchen because I was so tired. I remember this feeling but I had totally forgotten about it as time passed.”
As new moms, we want to soak up all the sweet moments of our child’s first few months. The sweet coos. The way their heads seem to fit perfectly into that little crook between our neck and shoulders. But there are parts about postpartum that we conveniently forget. However, those parts are often the ones that helped shape us into the moms we are today. They are the moments we weren’t sure we would survive (because of sleep deprivation) and moments where we were stronger than we ever knew we could be. Its those moments, those fleeting moments that we forget so easily because they were hard and uncomfortable and difficult, that we should remember and reflect upon as our children get older.
Since I am two months postpartum, I thought I would chronicle some things, the lovely and the less than glamorous aspects, in an attempt to remember them years from now.
This was my third time bringing home a new baby, but I had forgotten how unfamiliar my body feels during the first few days.
During pregnancy, the changes come on gradually so I get used to my pregnant belly. Then in just a few moments, that belly is gone and a new one has taken its place. Not pregnant, but there are still signs of that round and stretched womb that change faster than I can get used to.
Another thing I forgot is that, even after a beautiful birth, my body still felt like it got hit by a truck.
There was a strange sinking feeling in my middle that was really obvious the first few days, like I was fighting more gravity than usual every time I stood up. I felt a new awareness of my core organs, like I could feel they were out of place, so I needed help standing up and even steadying myself. Within a few days, that became more like a core weakness and was less noticeable but those first few days, I felt heavier even though I was lighter! I also just needed rest.
As my midwife put it, I ran a marathon in a few hours during the birth. It just takes time to recoup.
Just taking a little trip to potty is an ordeal in those early days.
I was reminded how imperative adult diapers and peri bottles become.
Amazingly, my baby took some long sleeps during those first few days and it was so wonderful, but inconsistent.
I was reminded about how my milk would let down even when she did not nurse and I would wake up in a puddle of milk – breast pads or none.
Really, I should have just stuffed a burp cloth in my shirt and slept on a stack of towels because who has time to wash the sheets every day?
There are a lot of leaking fluids that somehow make their way onto my clothes throughout the day. Choosing something to wear kind of becomes more about what I don’t mind getting ruined than what looks good. The baby and I alone make up a load of laundry every day between the sheets, blankies, burp cloths, and leaked-on clothes. I’ve just accepted that I probably will not smell fresh for a while.
Speaking of sleep, sleeping when your baby sleeps can be complicated.
This baby only sleeps well during the day when she is on my body. If I lay her down, she wakes up within 90 seconds. I wear her often, but there are a few things you just cannot do while wearing a baby, like take a shower, chop onions, lift a toddler, etc. So I am often torn between just sitting down to hold her or laying her down and sprinting around to do a few things in the seconds I have before she wakes up upset.
Time is a precious commodity. The days go by quickly but those nighttime hours can drag. So much time revolves around helping her get to sleep.
It is basically impossible to plan to leave the house at a certain time.
There is so much unpredictability about when she might nurse, and for how long, or when I’ll be able to get clean and dressed. Throw in a blowout diaper, not to mention getting her older siblings fed, dressed and ready to go, and the timeframe could be off by an hour, or two.
There just are not many spare minutes during these early days. Some days, she’s easy going and we can breeze through errands and dinner, and I can visit with my mom on the phone for an hour. Other days, I don’t change clothes and we reheat leftovers.
It’s not that I’m less productive: it’s just that the real necessities took more time on those leftover days! And I am so thankful for family and friends who understand and support me as I meet the needs of every person in the house – including myself. Because if mama is hungry or thirsty or tired, nobody’s happy.
I’m also remembering some of the unique things about newborn babies.
Like the way her little body curves into mine when I hold her or lay next to her. How she smells and coos, and how it is front page news when she smiles. There are some funny things, too. Like how sometimes the sound of her grunting or straining when she is upset reminds me of the sounds I made when I pushed her out. Am I the only one who thinks of this?
The memory of pushing is so intense, and I seem to forget it soon after the birth, but her grunts really do take me back.
I was recently reminded of the beauty of community.
Even if you want to do it all yourself, you just can’t. And it means so much when friends and family acknowledge that and come to offer support. Even just getting a card or short visit or a small gift or just a request to send photos of your newbie via text is so special because it affirms what you’re feeling – that something wonderful and worth celebrating has happened. And when people want to celebrate your little ones – really at any age – it means the world.
On the other hand, you want to just hibernate in your home and soak up your messy, beautiful love bubble without having a lot of company. So to those who came and loved and left to give us some space, thank you times a million.
The skin-to-skin time is one of life’s most simple and beautiful pleasures.
Even though other things need my attention, I would just hold her and soak her up all day if I could. It’s easy to get caught up in just the feeding, changing, rocking and soothing, but then there are moments when I slow down and just take in the wonder of this little being, knowing that she was the same one tapping on my belly from the inside a few weeks ago, patting her back and tracing her fingers with mine, breathing in that precious baby scent.
Every time I do, I get a dose of oxytocin surging through my body and feel love and happiness. On one of the early days, my husband was sick in bed and the house was quiet and I started to feel a little sad. The baby was asleep in her bed, but I picked her up and held her close and all the bluesy feelings left – instant joy.
I forgot how my husband and I miss each other.
There is a lot that bonds us and we gush over the new baby, but many days we don’t get to finish a conversation without being interrupted. We’re both a little more tired, a little more stretched thin. Leaving the house is an ordeal, leaving the baby is next to impossible in the beginning, so we just have to wait it out and soak up the sweet moments we have together.
Plus there is nothing like seeing her siblings feel the same way about her.
I know eventually she’ll get into their things or slow them down in some way, but for now, they adore every part of having her in our home. And every day, my heart could just burst from watching them all love each other.
Most days, I’m here just feeding and changing and serving, soaking it all up while I look forward to the next phase. So, I’m going to just give lots of love during these demanding, exhausting, slow days that will only last a short while.
When this is over, I’ll miss the days of snuggles and newborn smells, but at least I’ll get to wear a clean un-spit-up-on shirt.