Car crash. That is what my body felt the first five days. I felt a car had hit me head on. My body was painfully sore from laboring 33 hours. My feet were swollen like balloons. Each step I took gave me a painful reminder of the stitches down there. I will spare you other details of the physical recovery, but lets just say the first month postpartum was not a fun ride.
When it comes to physical recovery, I found there to be plenty of information, resources, and products available to help me (well, sometimes) with my aches and pains. When it came to my mental and emotional health, I found nothing. And it was the mental and emotional recovery that caught me the most off guard. The saddest part was I didn’t know who to turn to for help.
I tried turning to my husband once for support about three weeks postpartum, when I shared my frustrations with breastfeeding (over a screaming baby who was struggling to latch at that very moment) and how I couldn’t do it anymore. Let’s just say, the outcome of that conversation was not what I had hoped for. My husband – bless him – could not relate to my struggles at the time and ended up saying some choice of words that left me feeling deeply hurt, doubting myself even more as a woman and a mother. I felt more alone than ever before. I felt alone in my pain, my frustrations, my doubts, my sadness.
I couldn’t talk to any of my friends because I was the first one to have a child. I couldn’t talk to my family because I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my struggles. In hindsight, no one actually asked me about my struggles. Everyone was so focused on asking me about my son and wanting to see him (understandably so, what a cute and precious blessing he was). At most, I was asked about my physical recovery or generic questions like, “how are you doing? how is it being a mother?”. Instead, I wish I was asked more about how I was coping mentally and emotionally being a mother for the first time. In fact, no one prepared me for the mental and emotional struggles! I ask myself now, why is that?
That night – the night I had an argument with my husband – I googled a question about breastfeeding during the third or fourth or fifth feed (I usually lost count after the third time) while my husband slept peacefully next to me, oblivious to his son being awake for the umpteenth time. If you’re a mother, you know exactly how I felt watching him sleep. In my search for answers on how to breastfeed a baby who is struggling to latch, I stumbled upon an online community of mothers reaching out to one another for answers and support for their postpartum struggles.
Over the next few months, I became a silent spectator to faceless stories, questions, and comments from mothers around the world, all discussing their physical, mental, and emotional struggles. Many were even discussing their struggles in their relationship with their partner. I remember for many weeks, my routine became to scroll through the comments all night long as I fed my son. I found comfort, support, and so much strength by reading the words of these mothers. Thanks to this online community, I finally didn’t feel alone. I felt normal in my struggles. I felt hope. This new found sense of belonging (even though I was the creepy silent spectator), normalcy, and hope gave me so much strength and courage to look at myself as a capable mother.
So, what lessons did I learn from my first postpartum experience that I want to share with you?
- It is completely normal to struggle mentally and emotionally after giving birth. It is normal to have self-doubts. It is normal to feel sad. It is normal to feel frustrated with yourself and your partner and even your precious baby. It is normal to feel guilty for being frustrated with your baby. It is normal to have breakdowns. It is normal to experience anger. It is all so normal.
- You are not the only one feeling the things you’re feeling and thinking the things you’re thinking. Chances are, every mother at some point has had the exact same thought or feeling as you.
- If you’re a first time mother, your partner is also a first time parent. Which means, he also doesn’t know what to expect and what to do. He doesn’t understand what you’re experiencing and he can’t relate to your struggles, so how can he be expected to support you? This is not to make you feel alone, rather, to help you create more realistic expectations of those around you who may not know what you’re going through. Fear not, I will address this specific issue in an upcoming post!
- It is so important to reach out to other mothers in your life and talk about what you’re experiencing. Don’t just talk about the sleepless nights or share cute baby pictures. Talk about the REAL stuff. The stuff that impacts your mental health. We need to start creating a culture where it becomes normal and encouraged to discuss our mental and emotional struggles as mothers.
- It is easy to lose yourself in caring for your baby full time. However, we can only take care of our baby as well as we are taking care of ourselves. If we are drained, exhausted, unhappy, racked with doubts, fears, frustrations, questions, and guilt, how effective will we be in caring for our baby? Stay tuned, I will be discussing this one at length in an upcoming post.
Have I missed anything? What was your first postpartum experience like? Drop a comment to share your story!