How can any first-time mother possibly know what the postpartum period will be like? There really is no way to mentally prepare for the change a new baby brings. No book, no class, no friend can truly describe the reality of life with a newborn. The most intense love combined with the most fragile, vulnerable feelings as you realize that your little one relies entirely on you for all of his needs.
Diaper changes are endless, at least eight to ten in a 24 hour period, and you wonder how to wipe a bottom, apply cream, change an outfit, dispose of a dirty diaper, wrap baby in a clean blanket and wash your hands in under fifteen minutes. And just when you think you are done…the sound of yet another bowel movement…and so the process starts again.
You knew about meconium, the sticky, black first poop that filled your baby’s intestines when he was in utero, but you had NO IDEA just how much of it your baby would actually produce. Fortunately, you remember hearing that olive oil or organic coconut oil are useful for coating baby’s bottom and after the first meconium explosion, you are sure to use a copious amount as a barrier for future poops.
When labour ended, you thought that pain had stopped but now you realize how much your body aches. You used so many muscles as you pushed your baby into the world. He pressed against your tailbone, your pelvis shifted to make way for him, your hips strained as you used wide open positions to enable his birth and, oh goodness, your perineum is definitely a little worse for wear; perhaps you have some stitches, or a scrape or two. You move slowly, and you recover a little more each day, but in the meantime, you hurt in places that you didn’t expect. It’s such a relief to learn that mild pain relief is not contraindicated with breastfeeding.
Of course you knew that babies need to eat frequently. Their stomachs are the size of a chickpea at birth, and the size of a walnut after their first week, but nothing quite prepared you for how often you would be breastfeeding. Every few hours, and often more frequently, your baby asks to be nursed. He licks his lips, turns his head toward you, makes sucking sounds in his sleep…all subtle ways of saying, “please feed me”. Your breasts feel heavy and full, they leak milk, you and baby are learning about positioning and latch together, and it seems that your days and nights are all about feeding. And so they are. For now. Little did you know just how immersed in breastfeeding you would be or how the combination of the breastfeeding hormones oxytocin and prolactin would fill your heart with love for your newborn.
You are swollen still, perhaps from IV fluids, your breasts are leaking, you are sweating from maternal hormones, sometimes your lochia flow gushes (that’s the bleeding that follows childbirth), you are as hungry as a bear and your thirst is insatiable.
And yet..your baby stares at you intently as he drinks from your breast. You are drawn to his sweet baby smell as you hold him close. You marvel at his eyelashes, his toes, his soft, silky hair. You see a bit of yourself looking back at you. It’s true, no one could have told you what the postpartum period would be like. And no one could have told you how much you would love your baby.
You are a mother. Tired, exhilarated, anxious, over-the-moon-in-love…how could you have possibly known?