Weeks 1-3 Postpartum Journal
"The moment a child is born the mother is also born. She never existed before. The women existed, but the mother, never. The mother is something absolutely new."
The 'Fourth Trimester' refers to the first 12 weeks after birth; where baby is adjusting to life outside of the womb and the mother is adjusting to her new baby and role in life. I did a lot of research on this time period while I was pregnant, speaking with fellow doula's, midwives, pelvic floor physiotherapists, and my favorite resource - Mama's, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for what the postpartum period would feel like. It is one of those experiences in life where you just have no idea how you will feel until you are in it. It is amazing that women can endure growing, carrying, and birthing a baby but that doesn't mean it's easy, so I hope that the more we share the realities of our unique journey's the more connected we will feel in both the brutal, and beautiful moments...
/Awestruck by the magic/
Emotionally I’m feeling...
I'm feeling all the feelings... the biggest love I've ever known, elation, strength, pride, pain, overwhelm, and vulnerability. Never before have I had to navigate so many different co-existing emotions; sometimes in the very same moment. In the first week I felt the most content and in love I've ever felt in my life yet I was also in complete shock physically and emotionally. I was awestruck by the magical and wild way the birth unfolded and while I wouldn't change a thing, it happened very fast which meant I had zero time to process it... all of the sudden my baby was just here! We were released from the hospital the very same day that we checked in and when we got home I walked up the stairs where I had been in labour just hours before and I felt overcome with emotion thinking about the pure intensity of this labour of love. There I was, standing on the same steps, but I was not the same person I was before I gave birth.
I've been following the guidance of 'The First Forty Days' entering into postpartum with the intention of solely focussing on healing and bonding for the first 40 days. For me this looks like: staying in bed, resting, tons of skin to skin, and eating nourishing, warming foods. There are moments where my inner judgment creeps in and I think I should be doing more, but I quickly remind myself that by doing less I'm getting more quality time with my baby that I will always cherish. So far this approach feels like a gentle way to move through this tender time, yet even with these practices and my support system the first 3 weeks have simultaneously felt like the hardest and the most amazing weeks of my life. The physical healing, post-birth contractions, sleep deprivation and hormonal highs and lows have felt overwhelming and sharply contrasted with my love and gratitude for my son Harry, the pure awe of him, and how he has blessed our family and changed us for the better.
It has felt like such a marathon going from the birth right into sleep deprivation without time to recover. I never imagined the sleep deprivation would be so taxing; it has affected everything from my appetite, to my emotions, to my ability to communicate my needs. I had my placenta encapsulated and started taking the capsules on day 3 which I think helped my mood (or had a nice placebo effect).
/it's almost as if the birth and postpartum experience are natures way of stripping the maiden bare of any ego as she is reborn a mother/
Physically I'm Feeling...
I had an intervention-free labour and I couldn't believe how good my body felt almost immediately after birth and for the first couple of days. I think the natural release of oxytocin hormones really helped with this as I felt like I was riding on such a high. I had a sense of almost being out of body during this time, like I was not connected to it, probably from all of the adrenalin and excitement of meeting my baby! It wasn't until day 3 that I really felt the physical effects of what my body had just been through. My perineum, tail bone, sacral area, and breasts were very sore. The tailbone pain made it uncomfortable to breastfeed sitting up which was difficult. I had nights sweats - waking up drenched in sweat and breastmilk is a real special combo haha so sleeping on a towel, using breast pads, and frequently showering helped with this! I have Diastasis recti from the pregnancy (separation in the stomach muscles) so I am conscious of how I get out of bed. I try to always inhale, then exhale to push off from my side into standing (like you do in pregnancy).
I've been thinking a lot about the sensation I felt during labour of losing complete control of my body and giving myself over to that. Now in postpartum I feel like I'm very slowly gaining that physical control back little by little. I've always considered myself to be very in touch with my body so this feels new to me. At my first check up my midwife was examining my stomach and she told me my bladder was full which I couldn't feel at all! All these bodily things just happen - my stomach felt gassy the first few days and my milk was leaking. Sometimes it can feel like a lot, but after 9 months of my pregnant body doing funny things, after birthing my baby, and finally meeting him, those things don't really matter. It all feels very humbling, it's almost as if the birth and postpartum experience are natures way of stripping the maiden bare of any ego as she is reborn a mother.
I was used to rubbing my belly when my baby was inside, so it was an adjustment to feel like I had an empty womb space. My tummy felt soft like a deflated balloon, and it was about the same size as it was at 4 months pregnant. I embraced this as a cosy resting place for my baby to lay on. I've been making a conscious effort not to have any expectations or judgment around what my body looks like. I feel a deep sense of gratitude, respect, and new found appreciation for my body and I relate to it differently now; I really see it as this incredible vessel that grew, birthed, and is now feeding my baby. I just want to offer it love and protection right now. I still have the dark linea nigra line on my belly and its a sweet reminder of my pregnancy. When I have moments of feeling frustrated that the healing process is slow I try to remind myself that I'm not only healing from birth but also from 9 months of pregnancy. Each week I feel a little stronger physically but getting back to my pre-pregnancy size is not my focus at all... I want to keep a healthy amount of weight on, and get to a place where I feel fortified and rejuvenated before I'm ready to start introducing some gentle pelvic floor exercises. I feel like a new me, and although I'm not really sure who this 'new me' is yet (physically or emotionally), the idea of 'bouncing back' does not feel in alignment with this new version of myself that is emerging.
In the book 'The Fourth Trimester' the author, Kimberly Ann Johnson, talks about the importance of keeping the mother warm in order to support circulation, blood flow, relieve pain, boost energy, and aid in the detoxification process. I'm practicing this by wearing thick wool socks, warm comfy clothes, staying inside, using a heated blanket, and eating warming foods.
I used the honey pot pads post birth and found the essential oils in them to be soothing. I also had a couple sitz baths which helped with swelling. My bleeding stopped by around 2.5 weeks.
I waited 3 weeks to go for my first walk (which was hard but so worth it) my body felt ready and I felt emotionally ready to leave our little nest. It was snowing out on our first family walk which was magical! I feel like I am seeing the world through fresh eyes knowing it's all brand new to Harry.
/The sensation of my milk coming in, and post birth contractions as my baby was nursing had me sobbing in pain/
Most challenging moment(s)
Nights 3-5 Harry started cluster feeding, waking every 20-30 minutes to feed all night. This physical demand coincided with a hormonal dip causing me to feel very depleted and weepy (I made a video for Harry where I'm just crying about how much I love him haha). My midwife team at Westside Midwives was so supportive during this time. In Canada after birth midwives do a home visit within 24 hrs, 6 home visits total, and you are under their care for the first 6 weeks. It was such a relief to have Harry and I checked in the comfort of our own bed and have the midwife there to answer any questions and see us in our own environment. So often in our society after the baby arrives all of the focus and care shifts from being on the pregnant woman to the baby; of course the newborn needs this attention but the new Mom also needs to continue to be cared for in order to care for her baby. Our midwife demonstrated this to us in every home visit, and she always stopped to look me in the eye and ask me how I was feeling emotionally; validating that my mental health was just as important as my physical health. This made me feel seen and heard, and gave my husband the opportunity to see how he could best support me.
Day 3 was my most challenging moment physically. The sensation of my milk coming in, and post birth contractions as my baby was nursing had me sobbing in pain. My milk coming in almost felt like rush of electrical currents coming down my chest and from under my arms or like a prickly sensation. My breasts felt rock hard, very tender, and I was engorged for about 2 days. My midwife advised me not to pump yet as breastmilk is supply and demand so that could result in stimulating a surplus of milk. She showed me how to apply a hot compress on my chest, then "massage" any lumps to avoid mastitis. *It did NOT feel like a massage - I was in tears for this*, followed by a cold compress and Advil. Hand expressing in the shower also helped with engorgement.
Breastfeeding felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning and my nipples felt very raw from the cluster feeding. I applied nipple cream frequently and my midwife prescribed me a stronger one to prevent any cracking or bleeding. By week 3 breastfeeding feels much more comfortable now, though it feels taxing on my neck and back. It feels like such an incredible bonding experience and it can also feel like a huge responsibility to be my baby's only food source.
Day 5 was my toughest day emotionally. My Dad and Step Mom came to meet Harry which was so special but I hadn't slept in 3 Days. After a few hours of visiting I went upstairs to try and sleep and started to cry uncontrollably (about what I didn't know). I later read in "the 4th Trimester" that it's so important for Mom to physically be with baby to regulate hormones, temperature, energy etc. I think what I actually needed was to hold my baby again after not holding him for 3 hours. I'm so glad we did not have a lot of visitors apart from immediate family and we made a conscious decision not to overextend ourselves or play host. My midwife gave me the amazing suggestion of not getting changed out of my housecoat for visitors to not send the wrong message that this was social time. As difficult as Covid sometimes made things, it actually helped us to retreat without pressure to have people over or venture out into the world before we were ready.
I’m feeling grateful for...
I am so grateful for my healthy boy. I don't know how I got so lucky. I absolutely love being his Mom and it still feels like I'm living a dream.
I feel so grateful for my amazing support system - My mom and husband.
When I was pregnant my friend sent me this quote that I didn't fully understand until now...
"On one side there are all the women who have not given birth, and on the other there are all the mothers welcoming you with open arms. And in the middle is a long dark path, that you and only you must walk alone."
This resonates with me so much. I feel so grateful that I walked 'the long dark path' alone. As much as your support system can help hold you during labour, you are the only one who can birth your baby. I found such a powerful strength within myself during the birth that I feel very proud of. I'm also so grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from other Mom's - some close friends, some acquaintances who have reached out to ask how I'm feeling. I really didn't expect this. It feels like there is this secret society of supportive Moms that no one tells you about until you become one.
/One of the hardest parts of being pregnant and having a baby during covid is to not be witnessed as a new mother/
Sharing my birth story with my girlfriends over FaceTime feels like medicine for my soul. One of the hardest parts of being pregnant and having a baby during covid is to not be witnessed as a new mother... so to be able to share my story, and have my friends act as my mirrors and reflect what they see back to me feels very healing.
At this point when Harry is so dependent on me I feel like self care is basic but crucial to my well being. Prioritizing sleep (or rest when that's just not possible), showering first thing each morning, making sure I'm always hydrated and constantly fueling myself with nourishing foods, putting on fresh comfy clothes, and taking the time to moisturize my face and body. These things make me feel good.
I set up 2 self care stations - On my bedside table and in the bathroom. I have a basket with snacks for the night, nipple cream, lip balm, breast pads, ear plugs, a lavender eye pillow, an essential oil spray for body/room. In the bathroom it has sitz bath salts, a recovery spray of calming essential oils, pads, breast pads, deodorant, face and body cream. Putting these out in one place has made it easy for me to apply anything in a hurry if I need to.
Being off my phone - completely off social media for the first 40 Days (I deleted the apps from my phone), and putting away my phone while breastfeeding. It might not be realistic for me to uphold this forever but for now I want breastfeeding be a sacred time to connect and take deep breaths.
I'm following the principles from "the First Forty Days" book, focusing on foods and liquids that are warm (avoiding anything cold, like salads and raw veg), soft, and easy to digest to aid my digestion while my stomach organs are shifting back into place.
I've been drinking tons of room temp water, coconut water, and 2-3 cups of Mothers Milk tea a day. I stopped drinking coffee pre-pregnancy so I have my usual 1 cup of green tea in the morning.
I try to always have 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day to fuel myself and keep my milk supply strong.
I take a pretnatal, DHA, vitamin D, b12, and probiotic supplement.
-Oatmeal with greek yogurt, or coconut yogurt, flax seeds, hemp seeds, goji berries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and banana.
-Room temp smoothies with almond milk, avocado, blueberries, banana, a handful of spinach, and hemp seeds. Or almond milk, peanut butter, banana, hemp, and flax seeds.
-Spinach and cheddar omelettes
-Lots of soups: carrot ginger turmeric, chicken noodle, bone broths.
-Slow cooked beef stew with potatoes and carrots
-Baked sweet potato with baked apples
-Homemade apple sauce
-Ginger fried rice with salmon, spinach, and avocado (recipe from the First Forty Days book)
-Muesli with almond milk and fruit as a bedtime or middle of the night snack
-Snacks like Bran muffins, Carrot muffins, Apples with peanut butter, cheddar cheese, (anything I can eat with one hand while breastfeeding)
-Homemade golden lattes with tumeric, ginger, honey, ghee, almond milk
/Some of our sweetest moments together are in the middle of the night when it's just us awake/
What's new with Baby...
We had chosen not to find out the sex of our baby during pregnancy and although I had a strong feeling he was a boy it was still the surprise of a lifetime! The first moment I laid eyes on him I could not believe how much of his own person he already was. The love I feel for him is hard to put into words. In many ways it feels like our life is just beginning now that he is here with us. There are certain moments that will be etched into my mind forever, like the first hours with just our little family in the hospital room, our first car ride home, and the days that blurred into nights just starring at his every little feature.
Harry weighed 7lb 6 ounce at birth
The first 2 weeks he slept in the bassinet next to the bed and I joked that he sounded like a little farm animal! It's adorable how loud his little grunts are. Also I would wake up in the middle night in between feedings worried that he had fallen asleep on me in bed...I would look for him in a panic and then realize I had already put him back in his bassinet. One of my girlfriends sent me a meme about this so apparently this is a thing! Then I started co-sleeping/bed-sharing with Harry following the safe-sleeping guidelines. This has allowed me to get more sleep, not having to get him out of his bassinet and instead just breastfeeding in the side-lying position. He also seems to wake less when I'm right beside him. I find co-sleeping to be such magical bonding time and some of our sweetest moments together are in the middle of the night when it's just us awake.
The benefit of him cluster feeding was that it got him back up to his birthweight by day 5, (and kept my milk supply up!) so as difficult as it was it felt so gratifying to hear that he was gaining weight at a very healthy rate.
In my sleep deprived state I accidentally used organic diaper balm on my nipples thinking it was nipple balm because they were both small sample sizes by the same 'earth mama' brand. I called my midwife worrying that it might upset his tummy but fortunately we looked at the ingredients and they were almost identical, all natural, and not harmful to baby. Once we knew it was all good we had to laugh! Sorry Harry!
On week 3 he got some baby acne on his chest, I applied some breastmilk on it and it went away pretty quickly and will probably come and go as his hormones adjust.
He had his first bath and shower with us and he just loves the water!
Each morning he wakes up he looks a little different! He has started to hold eye contact for longer and I love seeing glimpses of his smile and facial expressions.
/As bouquets of flowers from our friends arrived, I would look over and see them in their different stages, the buds blooming, and then wilting. It felt like a metaphor of how fast time suddenly seemed to be flying by/
As a first time Mom these first 3 weeks have felt absolutely transformational. The definition of a passage is the act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another. The labour and birth not only felt like a passage into the world for baby but a profound passage for me from maiden to mother, and though the two of us had different starting points, this very much feels like a journey we are on together. As we practice breastfeeding and all these new things it feels like we are a team. I think this mentality has helped me to not have expectations or put too much pressure on myself when it comes to being his Mom as we are both beginners figuring it out.
Days before I gave birth I remember talking to Greg about my fear of how our lives might change once the baby came, but now that Harry is here I can see that change is not only entirely inevitable, but that it has the ability to suddenly put everything into perspective. In some ways I feel like I did when I was first falling in love with Greg...my view of the world subtly yet strongly shifting, the lens pulling focus, magnifying and crystalizing what is important, as the rest quietly falls out of the frame. Little things like the sound of rain falling on the roof sound a bit more melodic with his warm tiny hand curled around my finger, safely tucked away from the outside world. I want to reach out and pause each moment to look at him a little longer and listen to each little sound, but then another moment appears before my eyes, and another, and all I can do is try not blink.
Having a baby has made me so aware of my time on earth, the passing of time, my mortality, and my family's mortality. I find myself wishing for more time to be with Harry. As bouquets of flowers from our friends arrived, I would look over and see them in their different stages, the buds, blooming, and then wilting. It felt like a metaphor of how fast time suddenly seemed to be flying by. Perhaps because I have been so still in these first 3 weeks I feel as though I am literally watching him grow before my eyes. It's a strange thing to mourn something as it is happening, but I felt that way right after the birth and in these first weeks. This feels like the happiest time of my entire life, yet it feels bittersweet because I know it will soon be in the past. I'm sure I won't always feel so raw with these existential thoughts, but for now I'm letting myself feel it all; observing, inhaling, and drinking in every moment with my tiny growing baby.