HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS, FOLKS…
We’ve almost made it through our first year of parenthood! (Cue crowd whisper scream). And WHEW. What a wild ride it has been. Full of ups and downs and twists and turns, an adventure in every sense of the word. Somehow the hardest and most fun and joy-filled thing I have ever signed up for!
I’m not the same woman that I was before our boy was born. I’ve never been as happy or felt as much fulfillment in my life as I do right now. I’ve also never been more tired. Ha! I wanted to get real about a part of motherhood that not many women are stoked to talk about…that early postpartum recovery period. Mine was one of the darkest and most challenging times of my life, and I know many women have had similar experiences to mine.
I never thought I’d say that I’d be grateful for all that I experienced at the start of my motherhood journey, but I truly am. I don’t think I would appreciate the happiness and joy I feel now if it weren’t for the hardships and challenges that I had to face during those first few months postpartum. Every day that I wake up and feel happy feels like a fresh and precious gift from God!
Though I did read articles and books about how to prepare for the baby’s arrival while I was pregnant, I wish that I would have done more research on how to take care of my poor little droopy, squishy, starving, milk covered self after the baby was born. I was unprepared to navigate healing from birth (why does NOBODY tell us what that is going to be like), breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and postpartum anxiety and depression. Preparing to tackle those super hard things is so much more essential than packing the right snacks for your hospital bag or making sure you have a Pinterest-worthy nursery.
But alas, experience is our greatest teacher. When it comes to motherhood, you have to take things one day, one moment, or even one hour at a time!
Here are five postpartum essentials that I wanted to share with you:
1. Prioritizing Your Mental Health.
I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with miscarriage and loss, but haven’t talked much about the anxiety I experienced during my pregnancy. Despite having a healthy and relatively easy pregnancy, I felt like I was constantly fighting against this intense fear that I was going to lose my baby. I had miscarried twice before him and that made it hard to not worry that I might lose this baby, too.
I wish that I had taken some pre-emptive measures to address these mental health challenges while I was still pregnant, like getting on some anti-anxiety medication or seeing a therapist so that after birth I could have been prepared for when my anxiety worsened.
A couple weeks after our baby arrived, I was in the depths of postpartum depression. I hoped that it was just the “baby blues” that people talk about and tried to wait it out to see if I’d start to feel any better. It wasn’t until about six weeks postpartum that I went back to my doctor, met with a mental health specialist and was able to get some anti-depressant medication that literally changed my life. I am so grateful for modern medicine that allowed me to feel like myself again, to sleep when I wanted to sleep, and to lift the crushing weight that I felt I had been carrying since my baby had been born. I was able to start feeling connected to my baby and to taste the joy of motherhood, two things I had yearned for that didn’t come automatically.
I would encourage anyone who’s pregnant to have a plan in place for if you experience symptoms of anxiety or depression during your pregnancy or postpartum. Talk to someone you love and trust about how you’re feeling. I’m so grateful for my husband who was there for me during that really difficult time. Your doctor, midwife, or doula can also help you get the support and help that you need. Prioritizing your mental health will help you heal, and in turn, help you love, care for, and connect to your sweet baby better!
2. A Good Support System.
In my experience, sometimes things fall into place in our lives pretty effortlessly, but as children of God, we are meant to learn and grow through our experiences so that we can become more like Him. That means that sometimes our life experiences are going to get uncomfortable. Sometimes things are just plain hard! Even though becoming a mother was one of the deepest desires of my heart and I felt so ready to take care of our sweet boy, it was, and sometimes still is, hard in so many ways. Both moms and dads need so much support during this crazy transition into parenthood!
Accept every offer to bring you a meal, even if you freeze it for later. Do some research or ask for help when breastfeeding isn’t working or isn’t feeling natural. It’s totally ok to switch to formula or to not breastfeed at all. Lean on other people to do even the most basic things for you so you can gently take care of your body as it heals and recovers. You’ve just carried a baby for nine months and then brought that precious soul into the world! I think it takes just about that long, if not much longer, for you to start feeling like yourself again.
Don’t be afraid to accept and ask for help. We aren’t meant to do any of this alone!
My anxiety and postpartum depression made it very hard for me to relax and sleep during those first few weeks postpartum, and I can tell you that not sleeping for weeks and even months at a time can literally make you feel like a crazy person, like a shell of yourself. Rest and sleep is so essential for every aspect of our health, so I would encourage you to make it a top priority every single day after your baby is born! “Getting back” to life right after giving birth doesn’t do any favors for you or for anyone else. Take the time to sleep, lie down, let other people take care of your house and other children (if you have them). Seek out that support so that you can recover and heal!
I can’t say enough good things about Taking Cara Babies Newborn Sleep Class. I didn’t start using her method until our boy was 8 weeks old, and I wish I had sooner! It took some practice and consistency on our part to let him learn how to put himself back to sleep, but from the time he was 4 months old he’s been sleeping in his own crib in his own room through the night. AKA, the PARENTS have been sleeping soundly and only step in if he really needs us, which has been so rare! Sleep is so precious, and getting your baby in a good routine and sleeping on their own will allow you to reclaim your own sleep and feel so much more alive!
I’ll admit it, there are some things about giving birth and having to take care of a tiny helpless baby that are very hard to find funny (like changing gnarly blowout diapers in the middle of the night or trying to soothe a crying baby), but it never hurts to try to just laugh about the hard things as much as you can! My husband is so good about diffusing tension or stress with humor, and we love to laugh. Laughter can help you feel less overwhelmed, and helps me feel more energized and happy. Laughter is so essential in motherhood! I’ll tell you what, making our boy laugh is my absolute favorite activity of all time.
5. Remember that everything gets easier with time and practice.
Those first months of your baby’s life are super hard. I won’t sugar coat that. But I stand here on my “one year of experience” soapbox to tell thee that what other more experienced parents hath said is true…IT GETS BETTER! So much better! Now that our baby is almost a year old, I feel so much more confident in my ability to discern and address his needs, and I know how to keep him on a good schedule so that he’s happy and I’m happy.
Everything from changing diapers to breastfeeding to sleep training to learning to make time for yourself takes practice, and takes time. But things gradually feel more natural and effortless as you do them over and over. And over. And over.
Thankfully, with time and practice, I feel that I’ve been able to heal in every way. One year later and I feel really, really great. Hallelujah! I am so grateful to be on the other side of those hard experiences, and am also grateful to be able to feel empathy for others for the rest of my life who have gone through similar things.
Here are a few additional things that I found helpful during my postpartum recovery:
I hope that you have found this post helpful! Sending so much love to you if you’re pregnant or in the middle of that crazy, wonderful postpartum period. Remember…it gets better!