It's been seven weeks since the afternoon I went into labor with Maggie. I'm officially "healed" by American standards (the six week postpartum period has past). Over the past weeks I've struggled to make sense of my emotions, felt frustrated by my body and read more about postpartum and nursing than I thought possible.
It all started when I read Why are America's Postpartum Practices so Rough on New Mothers. While I am the exception to the rule, being able to take just over three months of paid leave, I still felt pressure to be up and doing routine chores in the immediate weeks following Maggie's birth. I didn't have any major issues (thank God) healing or with postpartum depression, but I do wish I had known a few things.
As a new mom living in the US, it can be difficult to balance what others think you should be doing with how you are actually doing. I'm not talking so much about the comments well meaning relatives and friends offer about caring for the baby, but the unspoken pressure to return to your usual routine just days or weeks after the baby is born.
Twenty-first century American culture puts some unrealistic expectations on women after they give birth. Being surrounded by it, it's easy to believe what American culture expects is right, with it's all too short maternity leave and limited help for the new mom (this article provides better insight and this one was also spot on, though the language was vulgar).
Breastfeeding is hard but totally worth it. You need support. Go to the lactation consultant if you're struggling. Enlist the support of your partner and talk to other women who have successfully breastfed their babies. This was one of my favorite blog posts on the topic, along with the books: The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. (Disclaimer: I also realize there are women who do not breastfeed, and not all get to make that choice. I have also learned to be more open minded toward those who cannot breastfeed.)
Take it easy, especially those first 3-4 weeks. You're not being a wimp if you limit the number of times you go up and down stairs each day or don't carry anything heavier than your baby (those were the doctor's orders to me upon being discharged about 60 hours after Maggie was delivered with no complications). Even if you are not in pain, you need to rest (this was a hard one for me). I totally overdid it the first two weeks I was home. Naps are necessary --they even help your milk supply.
While resisting the urge to Google baby related questions is probably a good idea, it is okay to read books about infant care and early parenting. Trusting your gut often proves best, but there will be times when referencing possible reasons for a fussy baby will encourage you. I actually refused to read any infancy books for the first 5 weeks or so, but when I started looking for a few reasons we'd had some struggles I was affirmed with what my gut had been telling me (I have been reading about breastfeeding before the birth and am still working my way through a book).
It's totally normal for even seemingly simple things to feel overwhelming. Getting out of the house to go to church was something that stumped me. I was so excited to return to our church family, yet I felt unsure how to balance the 30 minute drive with when the baby would need to eat. There was no reason to feel like a failure for not being able to time things the weeks that I did miss church.
Seek support from those who can give it. Whether it's a Facebook group for new moms, La Leche League meetings or friends who have recently had babies, reach out to them. Ask them questions. Talk about your frustrations and fears. I have two friends I talk about breastfeeding with. I'm so thankful to have a number of friends who are first-time moms and I see regularly. Also, don't forget to look for ways to return the favor and reach out to new moms in the future to see how they are doing.
Finally, just because you make it to that sixth week, it doesn't mean your body is magically healed. You may still need to wear a maxi pad and your baby's latch may not be perfect every time she eats. Keep hanging in there. Naps are still okay. Your body has undergone some serious changes in the last year, not to mention recent months. If you're feeling alone, rinse and repeat the above and remember to take it one day at a time.