When I was a new mom (who am I kidding, I still am) but in those early days, weeks, and months, of new motherhood, I remember feeling really lost. Not in a bad way, but just in a, “I’ve suddenly got this new job that I’ve never done before and I have no idea what I’m doing or if I’m doing it well, and the baby’s alive but is that enough? Am I enough? Am I doing this right? How do I do this? I just want someone to tell me what to do.” Sort of way.
I don’t think that’s an unusual way for moms to feel. Especially for a mom like me, in a foreign country, with no family or support structure around, and a husband who didn’t even get his full paternity leave. So, this advice and encouragement is coming from someone who had to do it almost all on her own. Someone who turned the video game on hard mode and couldn’t switch it off. It’s going to be ok mama, you’re doing great (or you will do great) and I have some words for you.
1. Take Care Of Your Pelvic Floor/Vagina
Your vagina might hurt a lot, or a little, but it’s going to hurt (many moms report pain even with a c-section). I personally tore my clitoris, tore sideways, and had an episiotomy. I didn’t get any pain meds for it because I live in Japan and people are crazy here. If you are offered pain meds, TAKE THEM! The pain was not traumatic, but it was, well, painful. I couldn’t sit correctly for months and had to use very soft pillows and doughnuts to do so. Take my word for it and just give yourself a little ease in this mama, they won’t give you ones that affect your baby and they will help make this tiring time less trying.
You also may or may not have some pelvic prolapse going on. The majority of what you feel down there for a few months is just swelling, but if it feels like there is a “wall” to your vaginal entrance or anything is hanging out where things haven’t stuck out before, it could be prolapse. If so, no biggie. Most of it goes away with physical therapy and without surgery! Your greatest ally in this is going to be a pelvic floor physio. Even if you have no prolapse or tearing, you should consider going anyway. That baby you just spent nine months lugging around put some serious strain on your pelvic floor muscles and the physio will just help you get everything back into tip top shape. It helps to think of them as a physical therapist for your vagina. I luckily never had anything prolapsing outside of me, but anytime our bodies change in unexpected ways, it’s scary! I did so much googling and tried to find so many different images to describe what I was feeling, I’m probably on a watch list now. So let me save you the trouble and disturbing images and tell you… it will be ok. You will heal. You will fix it. It feels no different to anyone else but you. And sex will one day return to normal, I promise. At 10 months postpartum, I’m still not at 100% yet and some days are better than others, but take it from someone who tore the most sensitive lady bit of all, and tore the rest of everything as well, THE PAIN WILL GO AWAY. I promise you. It will go away.
To help with healing all of this, I can’t recommend ice packs, anti-inflammatories, and witch hazel wipes enough. Do not wipe your lady parts after birth. DAB ONLY. Wet wipes will take care of you in this way. The witch hazel soothes. Other women I know used a peri bottle. I bought one but I never used it. The spraying water was honestly too painful for me (think overstimulation to the max, plus pain). So, just something to consider.
2. Have Someone Teach You how to Breastfeed
I thought (and all the books I read made it sound like) our first time nursing was going to be akin to a nature documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough. “And the tiny, human baby, just moments after birth, instinctually nuzzles in to experience her first taste of milk. Amazing. Mother and daughter both, will continue on this way, peacefully and serenely, as nature intended throughout the baby human’s first year of life.” NOPE! You can watch all the real life moms, the YouTube videos, the Instagram how-to’s you want… but you will have no clue what you are doing, and your baby has no clue what it’s doing. I took several trips to the nursing room in the Japanese birth hospital where I asked them to explain to me what to do in Japenglish but instead they’d just stick my baby right on for me, so whenever she fell off or fell asleep, I was hopeless to latch her back on myself. Finally, after yet another unsuccessful trip at 2am, me strewn dramatically across my bed on my stomach, weeping like a Disney princess, my husband rushing out and begging the nurses to please come and teach us, one of the nurses unexpectedly showing up to my room mid temper tantrum, her calling the base translator on speaker phone and all four of us discussing how to breastfeed like we were at a business meeting… I still had no idea what I was doing. It took one more breakdown, this time in the nursing room itself, before one of the nurses showed me how to help my baby latch. So, that’s my advice to every mom now. It’s not a nature documentary. GET HELP.
3. Have Somebody Speak Truth to You as You Heal
Postpartum is hard for loads of reasons. Don’t make your inner dialogue one of them. Get you someone (a best friend/family member/husband) that will tell you what a warrior goddess you are as many times as you need to hear it. Get someone who will tell you you’re beautiful, you’re not damaged, your body is amazing, (husbands are you taking notes?) what you did (and are still doing) is a miracle, that you are even more lovely than before, that you are awe inspiring… you get the picture. Find someone who can commit to this, even when you feel gross, even when you feel like your stomach will never go down, even when you’re worried about other parts of yourself, even when you feel like you’re failing. Even when you are failing. Even when you’re less than graceful. Find someone who will tell you these things and believe them.
This person also needs to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among new moms and tragically, this number is growing. Just know that if you do get depression, it is simply due to a chemical imbalance in your brain. You didn’t do anything wrong, your partner didn’t do anything wrong, it just is. Also, babies who have moms that seek treatment for their depression are less likely to have developmental and mood disorders, so, if not for yourself, get help for your baby.
Now is not the time to get back to your workout routine, it’s not the time to try on all your pre pregnancy clothes. Now is the time to focus on the important things. Your new family. Getting to know your new baby, and getting to know your new self. YOU WILL CHANGE. It will be hard. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. You might be confused, and afraid, and sad, and angry, and joyful, and hopeful, and amazed, and in love. One moment you will know exactly who you are and in the very next you won’t recognize yourself. It’s all ok. It’s all part of it. It’s transformation. The more you rest in acceptance, the easier it will all be. This is where all that extra love and affection comes in handy. You need someone to feel solid for you when nothing feels steady. Get a temporary cleaning service. Get a postpartum doula. Have people bring you meals. Use that support structure. Just rest. It will make everything a thousand times better.
5. You Do Not Have to Wait till 6 Weeks. You Do Not Have to Start at 6 Weeks.
There are lots of ways for you to be intimate without sex, so if you want to continue that part of your relationship with your husband, do it! Also, if you do want a break, because hey, A LOT just happened down there, then take it! Don’t feel obligated to act one way or another due to a number put out by the American healthcare system. Every body heals and feels differently. Only you know what is right for you. Obviously do not have penetrative sex before your stitches are all healed and all your wounds are closed and you are done bleeding, do use common sense please, but like I said, the sexual part of your relationship never has to end or be put on hiatus. It’s allllll up to you… and that baby… because I swear… it’s like they have a little internal alarm system. You roll over in your sleep? No problem. You roll over to “cuddle”? INSTANT CRYING. We had a white noise machine and everything, but I kid you not… this happened EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
And that’s it really! You’re in for a beautifully messy, but ohh so worth it ride.
As you read this, at one point, you may have said to yourself, “wow! This is some pretty personal stuff! I can’t believe she’s talking publicly about this!” And if I were sitting with you, my response would be something along the lines of, “Yep sister! It has to be said! No one told me that any of the things that happened to me were even possible before I gave birth and I at least want to prepare you because for me, the surprise contributed to the trauma. We as women are taught to “keep the mystery alive” while men get 30 second TV slots for boner pills… So. THAT is why I am telling you this. I lived in shame regarding the things I am sharing with you and that’s why I didn’t share them sooner. Honestly, I still feel shame. But as things have improved and I’ve found solutions, my shame situation improved. Are things 100%? Nope. But that’s ok. They’re about 75-80% on a good day, paired with steady improvement. Though honestly, I should have never been ashamed in the first place. I couldn’t control anything that happened to me, just like you won’t be able to control anything that happens to you. So that’s why I’m sharing, awareness and sisterhood are more important than my comfort. I hope you feel the same after you give birth and share your advice with other moms who may need it whenever you’re ready.