The Things No One Tells You About Your First Weeks as a Mom

I have learned that there are some things that people either sugarcoat or flat out just don’t talk about regarding those first few weeks after your baby is born. Which is rather unfortunate, because they are the things I think you really should hear to prepare yourself for your baby. To compound this, Hollywood and the media don’t do new moms any favors by glamorizing that time. I mean, let’s be real. You don’t pop out a baby and magically find the joy of motherhood and everything is perfect. It’s far from it! In fact, it’s completely normal and possible to not have an instant connection with your baby.

Here are some of the things that I wish someone had shared with me about those first few weeks:

  • Lochia – Sure, you hear about it in your birthing class or read about what it is in your pregnancy books. But let’s talk about the reality of Lochia. You literally have shit falling out of your vagina every time you stand up, sit down or use the bathroom for the first few weeks. It is borderline traumatizing. In fact, the first time I got up to use the bathroom after my c-section and I sat down my first thought was what the fuck was that?! And I stood up and looked and I almost shouted “OH. MY. GOD.” The nurse assured me it was perfectly normal, but I wasn’t convinced. The truth is that you will bleed for weeks (I bleed for two solid months). It will get lighter, and you will overexert yourself, and it will get heavier again until it stops. You will be given this little bottle, called a peri-bottle and it will be your best friend.
  • Pooping – Everybody poops. But not everyone has experienced that first post-pregnancy poop. It’s almost as traumatizing as giving birth! Ok, not really. But it’s a challenge. And once you realize that, going to the bathroom is terrifying. Eventually things will work themselves out, but be prepared.
  • Motherhood is Lonely – Those first few weeks after the baby, when your hormones are all out of whack and you can barely move and you aren’t sleeping more than 45 minutes at a time, is a very isolating experience. It’s okay and it does get better. But you definitely feel like you are all alone and I wish someone had told me how lonely I would feel, even with a new baby and my husband right by my side.
  • Bonding with your Baby – Contrary to all of those movies you see, the first time you hold your baby in your arms the heavens likely will not open up and shine light upon you while a chorus of angels serenade you. In fact, you are likely to be out of sorts and things will be happening so quickly that you aren’t exactly sure what is going on. You know that you just had a baby. You know that you are now responsible for another life. You know that you will love this child. But you may not be awash with that love immediately. Most likey you will be in a stunned state of wtf just happened, and that is okay! It may take a few hours or a few days for your heart and your head to catch up. It doesn’t make you a horrible person or less of a mother. It’s normal.
  • You Baby will demand everything from you – Your baby will be very demading. Your relationship right now is give, give, give. There is very little return at this point. Sure, there are baby snuggles and they are glorious, but your baby simply doesn’t have the capacity to give back yet. It’s coming. But be prepared to give everything you have those first few weeks.
  • You will make at least one mistake a day – Yup. Every single day. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You are learning and your baby won’t remember or know the difference!
  • You will cry…a lot – It’s just a thing that happens. Your hormones are all over the place. You are exhausted. And your don’t know what the fuck you are doing. The tears will come for no reason at all or for the silliest things. In fact, sometimes just having a good cry will feed good! You aren’t broken, you don’t love your baby any less. The tears come and the tears go and eventually the tears will stop.
  • Be kind to yourself – You will be your own worst critic. Always. Remember to take care of yourself and be gentle to yourself. You are important, you just wet through a major change in your body and your life and you have feelings. Love yourself and be kind to yourself.
  • Those snuggles don’t last forever – Enjoy them! It’s okay to just hold your baby! Eventually she won’t want to be held all of the time anymore and you will miss those moments.

In hindsight, I’m sure someone probably mentioned one or two of the things on the list and I just didn’t pay attention (hello! of course angels will sing when my baby is born!). But I really do think there could be more done to prepare new mothers for those first weeks with their baby. It’s hard and nobody really tells you!

Postpartum Depression

When you are in the hospital having your baby, you will be inundated with pamphlets throughout your stay. Information on why your baby cries, how to handle your baby crying, taking care of yourself, etc. Undoubtedly one of those pamphlets will be on Postpartum Depression. If you are like me, you will take a look at it and tuck it away somewhere because surely PPD won’t affect me. I wanted this baby so badly, I tried for so long and so hard, I could barely contain myself waiting a whole nine months to meet her. There is no way I would now be depressed about her being here.

I had the same conversation with myself in the days following when I received similar information from the state – I flipped through it, read it, found it fascinating that PPD can occur when you stop breastfeeding and then again shelved it away. I don’t care that I cry all the time, everyone experiences baby blues I told myself. It will pass, and I will be fine. Everything will be just fine. I am not suffering any worse than anyone else.

But I cried. A lot. I was so anxious that something would happen to the baby and she would die if I fell asleep, that I hardly slept. Everyone kept telling me to sleep when the baby sleeps – but don’t they realize that’s impossible? What if something happens to her and we are all asleep? I was so exhausted, but sleeping simply wan’t an option. Which made me cry even more, because I was so tired and everything seemed so horribly overwhelming. Why does this baby want to nurse again? I just fed her. My nipples are cracked and sore, she can’t possibly want to eat again. Why is she crying again? I just fed her, and changed her, and why can’t I get this right? What am I doing wrong? Why am I cyring again?  

At some point in that first month I had horrible thoughts run through my mind and was terrified of sharing them with anyone – especially my husband. I became a mess everytime I thought she wasn’t getting enough to eat and wasn’t gaining enough weight – a direct result of the events of my last post on our breastfeeding struggles. I took a test and scored as a strong candidate for PPD. But I rejected that, because there was no way that is what was wrong with me. It’s just the damn baby blues. I’m fine. Everything is going to be just fine

And somehow I muddled through convincing myself of that.

My husband pushed and encouraged me to go to the new mom’s group sponsored by the hospital – but I didn’t need that. I had all the support I needed at home, right? Besides, I didn’t want these people I didn’t know to see me crying. They might think that I can’t handle this whole mom gig. I know that I can do this – I don’t need help. I wanted this for so long. I’m fine.

After four weeks my husband went back to work. I had one day between when he returned to work and my mom arrived to stay for a month. One day. But the Sunday before he went back to work I lost it and was an anxious mess and cried all day. What if I couldn’t do this? What if I can’t get Kerrigan to her four week appointment on my own? What if the car seat and stroller are too heavy? How am I going to manage?

But somehow I did manage. And I continued to ignore all those pamphlets about Postpartum Depression.

The next month my mom was here. I don’t know if her pressence made me feel better, or if I was trying really hard to hold it together in front of her, but during that month I seemed to cry less and feel a little more like myself. She and I got out of the house more, I was walking daily as my C-Section recovery progressed, and I almost felt, dare I say it, well

At least until the heat came.

Seattle had the hottest summer on record this past summer. And like most homes, we didn’t have air conditioning. How could this be happening? Doesn’t mother nature know that the ideal temprature for babies to sleep is a cool 68 degrees? My baby was surely going to die because I couldn’t keep her cool enough! And just like that, I stopped sleeping again. It was too hot to take the baby out for a daily walk. So I stopped exercising again. Kerrigan cried non-stop in the car; leaving the house was so incredibly stressful. And so I started crying a little more again.

After enough hot days passed, and we were able to keep the house cool enough, and the baby didn’t die, I was able to relax some. Little things still sent me into a whirlwind of emotions and tears, but that was normal. Wasn’t it? I asked about baby blues at my six week follow up – but maybe I underplayed how I was feeling. Or maybe I wasn’t feeling as low at that point since it was halfway through my mom’s visit. I’m not sure. The midwife just told me to keep an eye on it and call if I needed more help – there were options available.

Well, I didn’t need more help. I was fine. And I wasn’t interested in taking additional medication because I was a little sad now and then. It’s just hormones evening out. Everyone experiences this and eventually it resolves itself and life moves on like one perfect postcard.

My mom left after a month. I was finally going to be all on my own with the baby. I was excited for the bonding time and the down time of not having anyone else in the house so that I could have a few minutes just to myself when the baby was sleeping. It was going to be glorious. A whole month to spend with Kerrigan before I had to go back to work. I couldn’t wait!

Except on the eve of that first day alone with the baby, the awful thoughts came back. They kept me awake and I couldn’t sleep. It seems that my mom leaving triggered all of the anxiety that I was able to hold at bay while she was here. She gave me both courage and strength, but she wasn’t going to be here anymore. I was going to be all alone, no one would help me. That first day by myself wasn’t the enjoyable bonding I thought it would be at all. It was hard and the baby cried. A lot. I screamed at her, and then felt like the worst mother and most awful human being on the planet, so I just held her and cried with her. I met my husband at the door sobbing, asking him why he took so long getting home from work.

I can’t remember if it was that night, or one of the nights following that night, but I finally admitted that something wasn’t right. I finally admitted that I needed help. That I thought I might be suffering postpartum depression and had been trying to convince myself that surely it wasn’t happening to me. How could it? 

I asked my husband to call the OB’s office. I knew I needed help, but also knew I wouldn’t be able to ask for it myself. I told him I didn’t want medication – I was on enough medication already. Ask for a referral to a therapist, schedule me an appointment. I’ll go. I can’t feel like this any more.

That day we had our 8 week checkup. The pediatrician asked how things were and I fell apart. We assured him we already had a call into the OB. I was having a rough go, but I was going to get help. He was compassionate. He handled me with the same care he did my daughter, and for that I am still grateful. My favorite nurse from the OB’s office called in the middle of that appointment and my husband took the call. He got the names of several therapists and  the nurse told him to stress to me that this wasn’t my fault or anything that I’d done wrong. It’s all hormones and it’s completly out of your control. It happens.

You are not a bad mother, he was told to assure me.

That night I researched the list of therapists and selected one for my husband to call and schedule me an appointment. I also registered myself to attend that new mom’s group. Both of which ended up being vital to my recovery. By the time my maternity leave was over and I was ready to go back to work I was feeling better. Not fully like myself, because I still cried more easily that normal, but more like the person I was before having a baby.

At my final new mom’s meeting I was a little sad that the 3-6 month mom’s group meets during the day, because it meant I couldn’t go and the support was surprisingly healthy for me. To the point I wished I’d had gone earlier when both my mom and husband encouraged it. Since then I’ve looked for a similar evening or weekend support group, but haven’t succeeding in finding one. I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to find some local mom friends – even though I’m a bit introverted when it comes to that sort of thing.

I am still seeing my therapist – almost six months after Kerrigan’s birth. I know treatment would have been easier if I had just taken the prescription that was offered to me by my OB, but I wanted to try to make it through without medication. I think I have and that I’m better for it. I’ve learned a lot about myself through my therapy sessions. I’ve learned a lot about controlling my fears and my frustration. I’ve learned a lot about why these things affect me. I’ve learned a lot about who I am and who I want to be. The only regret I have about therapy is that I tried to convince myself for so long that I couldn’t possibly need help; that I wasn’t suffering.

I just recently discussed starting to wind down my sessions because I am starting to feel like I might be able to cope on my own again. Of course, I had a complete melt down during Pregnancy and Infant Loss month/day and spent an entire hour crying in her office, but I managed to pull myself back up. My husband has also recently commented that I still fall down sometimes, but I’m much quicker to recover. Instead of taking days, it takes minutes or hours. I spend more time enjoying my baby than I do crying. I’m finally healing from what ended up being the hardest part of birth – coping with my emotions.

Postpartum Depression is real. It’s terrifying, it hurts and it affects even the strongest women. The next time you see a new mom, make a point of looking her in the eye and asking her how she is really doing. If she breaks down, hold her up. Because that’s what she needs, to be caught in your loving arms, even if it’s just for that moment. This shit is hard – and there aren’t enough villages available to take in most new moms.

Early Breastfeeding Struggles

At some point during my pregnancy, I had decided that I wanted to breastfeed. Knowing that it was possible I might face some challenges with this given my “advanced maternal age” and PCOS, I did early research, sought help before the baby was born and requested a lactation consultant visit me when I checked in at the hospital. When I decided to breastfeed, knowing in advance that I might not be able to, I told myself I would try but I wouldn’t be upset if it didn’t work out.

Well, somewhere between that conversation with myself and the birth of my daughter I became passionate about breastfeeding. I think it was because so many things about my pregnancy and birth experience didn’t go as I’d expected that this one thing became so important to me. I didn’t get my skin to skin right after my c-section, they gave our daughter to my husband and I barely got a glimpse of her. Despite that, as soon as she was with me she latched and started nursing immediately. And in my mind that seemed to seal the deal. I had to do this.

During our two day stay in the hospital, Kerrigan wanted to nurse very frequently. Because of her size her blood sugar was monitored during the first day (it was fine). She cried a lot, slept a lot and nursed a lot. That was the extent of her existence during those early days. When they checked her weight the day following her birth, the doctor commented that she’d lost more than expected but didn’t seem to worried about it. The doctor the following day also commented on how much she’d lost, but didn’t seem overly concerned and signed off on discharging her. We had a follow up appointment with the mother and baby center at the hospital four days after her birth, and they would recheck her weight then. We didn’t think very much of it as they discharged us and sent us on our way.

In the days following our discharge, Kerrigan nursed constantly and continued to cry a lot. Being new parents, we just assumed that this was normal for babies. I mean, they are hungry and they cry, right?

Fast forward a couple of days to our follow up appointment at the hospital. That morning my milk had FINALLY come in! We could tell because I looked like I’d exploded overnight and when I hand expressed there was finally milk instead of colostrum. Hooray! Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived. At our appointment we learned that Kerrigan had lost too much of her birth weight and there were concerns about how much she was getting to eat. We were immediately scheduled appointments with our pediatrician and a lactation consultant for the following day. We were also told we needed to supplement.

I was devastated.  

Robert and I stayed firm that we didn’t want Kerrigan to have formula. My milk had just come in, we told the nurse. We were confident that she didn’t need formula. We didn’t even have bottles other than those for the pump. Since Kerrigan received enough during her weighted feeding the nurse agreed we could try without formula, but that the pediatrician may advise us differently the following day. If we were sure we didn’t want to supplement with formula (we were sure) we needed to supplement with breast milk. She put us on a feeding schedule that had us feeding Kerrigan every two hours for the next 24 hours. I was to give her ten minutes on each breast and then pump for 15 minutes. We were to save the milk that was pumped and my  husband was to give it to her in a bottle after she nursed the next session, while I was pumping. She gave us a nipple she recommended instead of the ones that came with the pump bottles and wistfully sent us on our way.

The 24 hours following that appointment were probably some of the worst of my life. The entire feeding cycle, that we followed to a tee, took about an hour from start to finish. After nursing, I was able to pump an ounce of milk each time. If we were lucky we were able to rest for an hour before starting it all over again. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. And trying to recover from major surgery. 

I sobbed the first time my husband gave Kerrigan a bottle, as I sat there connected to the pump hoping to increase my supply. We’d always planned to have him give her one bottle a day, starting around 4 weeks, but it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Getting to nurse her was supposed to be my thing, dammit. I didn’t get my immediate skin to skin – that was given to him. I didn’t get the birth I was hoping for – that was dictated by her. But nursing was supposed to be in my control and now these moments were also being ripped away from me. I felt horrible for being upset. I felt horrible for resenting my husband for feeding our child. But I couldn’t stop the emotions or the tears. I was her mother. I was breastfeeding. This was supposed to be my experience.
Despite never having any problems latching, after her third bottle that night I strugled to get her to latch. I cried even harder. Despair set in and I was convinced that was it, I was done. I was a failure at breastfeeding, let’s just go buy the kid some formula and be done with it (the exact reason we specifically got rid of that freebie formula that was sent in the mail!). But knowing this was important to me, knowing it was best for Kerrigan, my husband pushed me to keep going. “We aren’t quitters in this house” he told me. And he was right. We didn’t quit trying to conceive when it got hard – why should I give up on this? And I am so grateful for that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever told him that – but I’m so glad that he held fast when I didn’t and pushed me to be strong.

Somehow we made it through those 24 hours, and despite our sleep deprivation, made it to the pediatrician’s office. The preceeding 24 hours were awful, and we both headed into the pediatrician’s office with the mindset that we were going to tell him we didn’t feel it necessary to keep at the pumping/bottle feeding. It was causing stress. My milk had just come in yesterday morning, we are sure she is getting enough to eat! The first thing they did was weigh Kerrigan, and then double checked her weight. The doctor came in and told us we could stop the feeding schedule the nurse the prior day put us on. He didn’t think it was necessary. In fact, he even went as far to say that he thought the scales at the hospital may have been off! Either that or Kerrigan had gained five ounces over night!

He agreed that she was getting enough to eat and told us if our appointment at the hospital had been a day later we probably wouldn’t even be sitting in his office because her weight would have been fine. We did admit that there was a positive to thse past 24 hours, and that was that we got to experience our baby with a full belly. And that she was actually a pretty content baby. And that was both great news and a hard pill for me to swallow because it meant that the reason she had been so upset before had been because she was hungry and not getting enough to eat. That realization broke my heart and still upsets me to this day.

We met with the lactation consultant later that day – and she was also amazed at how much weight Kerrigan had gained seemingly overnight and even more impressed that we supplemented with breastmilk and not formula. She admitted to having been prepared for problems with me breastfeeding, and had shared that she’d put a few red flags in my file: Age, PCOS, C-Section. But she was thrilled with how successful we’d been and was happy with how much Kerrigan was getting during her weighted feeding. She encouraged me to hold onto 2-3 of the pumpings, but indicated we didn’t need to provide extra milk after nursing sessions. She also requested that we come in and weigh her weekly over the next four weeks.

After that appointment we had two more appointments with lactation consultants. We also had an evaluation on a posterior tongue tie. But Kerrigan continued to grow and do very well. As it turns out, my supply is fine. In fact, I am blessed with an over supply such that I have a 900 ounce stash of milk in my freezer in case of an emergency. It seems that it was just the circumstances that I was presented with that caused our struggles – an almost 10 pound baby and a c-section delaying the arrival of my milk. In hindsight, I see now that Kerrigan likely never got enough colostrum to fill her belly. And was hungy for the first four days of her life. But I can’t change those things.

To this day I still have anxiety about Kerrigan gaining enough weight and getting enough to eat. I still take her regularly to the mom and baby center to use their scales and weigh her to ease my mind. I still worry about my supply, and anytime I have a lower pump at work I panic a little. I was unsettled when she dropped a feeding. I still pump after nursing twice a day on days that I don’t work. I do everything that I can to protect my supply at all costs. To say that this experience left a lasting impression on me would be an understatement; but I don’t have regrets about it. 

I am grateful that I am able to breastfeed. I am grateful that I overcame those early challenges and had a support system that helped me through those difficult times. Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but I am so grateful for the bond that only I have with my daughter when she nurses. As it turns out, I did get to keep this one thing. And it has been worth every tear shed and every struggle we endured.

20 Weeks In, 20 Weeks Out

This is actually from a few weeks ago, but I realized that I never shared it here. It was a lot of fun putting it together, and it’s amazing how quickly the time passes and how much changes along the way! The 39th week of my pregnancy seemed to take forever; and despite knowing I had an end date with the c-section, I felt like the baby was never going to arrive. But these last 23 weeks? Holy moly has it been a blur!


Unexpected Emotions

When Robert and I decided to start a family it was always our intention to be a family of three. Our goal was one pregnancy, one baby. We struggled to get there, but after two years we were finally pregnant. I was happy, he was happy. I enjoyed my pregnancy – even if I had some stress and anxiety throughout. It was a relatively easy pregnancy all things considered. I was able to stay active during it and it wasn’t until my final week that I really starting feeling uncomfortable and was ready to not be pregnant anymore. I loved my belly, I loved feeling the baby move and I just generally loved being pregnant.

During all of this we continued to maintain that this would be our only child. Even as the OB asked me during my 39th week if we planned to have another and struggled to hide his shock when we both immediately responded “no”.

Once the baby was born, I was thrilled. Finally, here she was! The child we’d longed for and struggled so hard to conceive. But what I didn’t expect was the sadness that I experienced when I looked back at the pictures from my pregnancy in those first weeks after the baby was born. I was overcome with emotion over the fact that, in all liklihood, I would never be pregnant again. I would never have a bump again, or feel the excitement of a small human growing inside of me, or sit in the shower in the morning rubbing my belly and talking to my unborn child.

Where were these feelings coming from?! Was it simply postpartum hormones? I mean, really, I had always been on board the one and done train. I told everyone who asked that this was likely it for us. My age, Robert’s age, our fertility struggles – it was all so hard. We had no intention of walking down that path again. We had a perfectly healthy little girl to love and adore, and that was good enough.

Or was it?

Suddenly I wasn’t sure. My head and my heart were at odds with each other and it was very confusing. Correction. It is very confusing. Because I am still unsure. There is very much a part of me that still thinks we are done and our little family of three is complete. But there is a voice in my heart that continues to ask me to reconsider and really think this through while I still have the time. And so here I am, still experiencing these unexpected emotions. Five months postpartum and no closer to answering any of the questions that I now have; no longer confident that one and done is the right decision for us. 

I am amazed at how one tiny person who can’t communicate in words can speak so strongly to your heart. I wish I had the ability to peek into the future and see my life in ten years. To know if I was making the right decisions. But I don’t. Which means that I am going to be doing some serious soul searching during the next few months and hoping that at the end I find some clarity. To know I’m making a decision with both my head and my heart that I am comfortable with, because I don’t want to look bak at this moment in ten years and regret that I didn’t listen when my heart spoke.

Non-Stress Tests

Somewhere around my 33rd week of pregnancy, when I went in for my routine appointment, my fundal height was suddenly measuring two weeks ahead of schedule. This represented a change from my usual “right on track” measurements that I’d been receiving from the time they started measuring my fundal height. Because of this I was sent back to the MFM to have a growth scan done and see what was going on inside my uterus and check to make sure there was nothing alarming for the baby.

As it turns out, the baby was measuring 36-37 weeks. Which meant at that point she was big. Everything else looked just fine, she was just measuing larger than expected. Given her size, the fact that I was “advanced maternal age” and my autoimmune problems, it was recommended that I start weekly monitoring at 35 weeks. This included a Non-Stress Test and a Biometric Profile.

What are these tests? Well, they are just fancy terms for having an extended doppler reading and a weekly ultrasound.

The Non-Stress Test

This test was exceedingly simple. Basically we went into the office, sat in a comfy chair and my belly was hooked up to sensors that would monitor the baby’s heartbeat, movement and my contractions. I was also given a clicker so that I could click anytime I felt a movement. You sat in the chair, hooked up to the machine, for about 20 minutes. I usually read or surfed the internet on my phone. It wasn’t bad at all! And I rather enjoyed listening to the baby’s heart chug away every week.

The Biometric Profile

This test was also fairly simple, at least my part of it. It was an ultrasoud where the tech worked through a checklist of things each week to make sure that there were no red flags. She would look at the four chambers of the heart, watch the baby breathe, look for fetal movement, look at the brain activity and measure my amniotic fluid. I’m sure there was more on the checklist, but I believe those were the big things. The ultrasound took roughly 20 minutes, and it was fun getting to see Kerrigan each week.

While I know some may have considered it a pain to have to have two seperate doctor’s appointments every week – the one with the MFM and the one with my OB – I really didn’t mind. I was so anxious throughout my pregnancy that I welcomed the extra care. I was more than happy to make the time for the  weekly tests, and it actually gave me a sense of calm to know that I had the weekly checks on the baby.

In the end, we did a final growth scan on Kerrigan, and she measured very large at an estimated 9 pounds 15 ounces. The MFM did tell us that the larger the baby, the less accurate the readings are from the ultrasound and she would guess the baby would be somewhere between 9 and 9.5 pounds. She told us we were right on the cusp of where she’d recommend a c-section, but I had a large frame and might be fine with a vaginal birth.

If you’ve read my birth story, you know that we opted for a scheduled c-section after Kerrigan didn’t arrive on her due date. She ended up being 9 pounds, 13 ounces and my OB indicated after seeing her that I wouldn’t have been able to birth her shoulders because of how broad they were. When all was said and done, I was happy that I was sent for that first growth scan. I was happy to have the extra weekly monitoring and I was happy that we did that final growth scan at 39 weeks. And, really, who doesn’t want to listen to their baby and watch them grow for an hour a week?