Becoming a mom completely changed my life.
I gave birth to my son, Luke, via C-section on an overcast evening in late August 2020. He is our beautiful rainbow baby after losing a child to miscarriage early in pregnancy in 2019. Needless to say, my husband and I wholeheartedly planned for him and are in our own utopia with our son.
I didn’t know about the fourth trimester until about two weeks postpartum, after I had been on my road to recovery for what seemed like years on end at times. Had I known about it, I would have put my perfectionism to good use and devised a full-fledged plan. I had no clue about the fourth trimester until coming across an article on one of my baby-milestone apps.
The fourth trimester consists of the first 12 weeks after you have your baby. You’ll likely have a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider one or two weeks after having your child, with another at the six-week mark. In addition, your child is also adjusting to life outside of the womb. Navigating this new normal can be a culture shock for mom and baby (not to mention your partner, too).
The truth is, you cannot prepare for each situation, and this mantra applies to the fourth trimester. You adapt and go with the universe’s flow because time is not your own. You put some parts of ordinary life aside to ensure that your newborn is fed, bathed, diapered, and getting enough sleep. As a new mom, you will face sleepless nights, the lack of consistent showers, and other situations your birth books didn’t prepare you for.
During the first couple of weeks, I questioned if I could be a mom at least 27 times. I still have my doubts when anxiety and depression hit me at full speed like a runaway train. My son was fussy because of gas, so we decided to give him gripe water. Well, I accidentally gave him the entire recommended dose at once because my finger slipped on the syringe. He choked on it, and thank God my husband was there to bring clarity and calmness to this situation. Of course, our son was fine, but these little moments can add up and cause a multitude of fears. But then, your child will look deeply into your eyes and smile the most precious smile you have ever seen. You can’t help but smile back as at least some of the worries melt away.
Had I known about the fourth trimester in advance, I would have gone all master birth plan on the situation. I would have tried to dot all of the Is and cross the Ts and would have likely freaked out when nothing went according to plan. However, that may not have helped me as much as I think it would have due to added stress and my internal unrelenting high standards.
I wish I did know about the fourth trimester, though. There’s such an emphasis on the first through third trimesters that the fourth one often gets overlooked in holistic care. I was so busy trying to get through the day-to-day pregnancy woes that I didn’t spend much time on what the postpartum period may look like for me. I knew we would have an extra human in the house and was confident I could care for said human, but I didn’t know how all of it would pan out.
Here is what I learned in the first month of postpartum:
What perfectionism? I am not in control.
This has been the first point of internal contention during pregnancy and postpartum. Being pregnant is never an easy feat for nine months. However, being pregnant during a pandemic is no ordinary walk in the park. Many of us have had to alter our expectations to meet the realistic needs of safety and other concerns. That means a virtual or limited capacity baby shower, going to appointments without our partners, and staying home most of the time to keep you and your growing little one safe.
As someone with generalized health disorder who thrives on productivity and the thrill of getting things done, I have discovered a slew of challenges in this regard. During pregnancy, I could not control the health issues that invaded my sanity during the third trimester. I found myself in a constant flux of anxiety, and having gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and a breech baby added to my increasing levels of mental health debacles. What I learned is that I am not in control, and while I still balance my perfectionistic tendencies with more healthy behaviors, I still struggle with this. After all, as the CEO of my own company, I have become accustomed to completing tasks on my to-do list with swift precision and coming and going as I please. You cannot do this with a child who needs you for basically everything. There’s nothing like being initiated to parenthood quite like this — when you realize that your child will have his own mind and journey. The best made plans sometimes never come to fruition, and you’re left with a shell of a Plan Z. For example, I had every intention of carrying out my pages-long birth plan to a T, but it seemed like everything changed in the final couple of weeks. I also wanted to prepare grandiose freezer meals, but in the end, I settled for easy-to-make meals and takeout for those first two weeks at home with our son. It ended up being more important to bond as a newly minted family of three than stress out over seemingly small things.
It’s better to talk about mood shifts and anything that semi resembles baby blues or postpartum depression.
Know that your entire world will flip on its ear. I know it’s cliché to talk in those terms, but life does indeed change. It’s an adjustment to add a new human into the fold, no matter how much you love that cuddly 8-pound baby human that resembles you. It’s OK to have mixed emotions about the entire process. You’ll love your baby more than life itself, but there will also be times that you feel unprepared, nostalgic for bygone times (like sleeping on your own schedule), and guilty for taking care of your own needs. Whether you feel elated or in despair, talk about your emotions with someone you trust. Most women experience baby blues in the weeks after birth, but if they persist or worsen after that initial time period, it could morph into postpartum depression. Talk about what you are experiencing with your significant other, a family member, friend, therapist, or someone else. Write down your feelings — or record a voice note as you feed your baby. It helps to put spoken words to your internal feelings, no matter what you think of them and yourself. I have realized that my support system means everything to me, and I am so glad to have the most amazing husband who constantly helps me and our son. No matter what it looks like for you, practice having a grateful heart for those around you.
Go with your gut when it comes to making decisions about your child.
At the pivotal 36-week mark, my son was in a frank breech presentation. He had been breech since my weekly ultrasounds began around Week 30, and I knew a version was an option. While it could be helpful for many women, something about it was off-putting to me. It wasn’t just the 50 percent success rate or the fact that it could result in distress for my son and me. I just felt in my gut that it was the wrong decision for us. It turns out he was likely breech because of my abnormal uterus. Since then, I’ve realized that my intuition rarely steers me in the wrong direction, regardless if I listen to it or not. I employed that same reasoning when I chose to bottle feed and supplement for a time with pumped breast milk. This works for our family for multiple reasons, and my gut led me and my husband to make this call. Listen to what your heart and mind tell you. After all, you know your baby because you carried him or her for the duration of gestation. I’ve learned to put a lot of weight into mother’s intuition, despite feeling that new brand of mom guilt that adds to my already cumbersome perfectionism. It’s important to do what is best for you and your baby, even if that means working through the guilt and inadequacy you may feel.
Take care of your needs, in addition to your baby’s.
It can be incredibly easy to put your baby’s needs ahead of your own, but you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your baby. I have worked with many clients over the years, one of which focused on helping new parents build connections with their babies that would last a lifetime. As I crafted the messaging and created an informational booklet, I paid attention to the parental self-care part. How could a parent not take care of his or her own needs? I wondered then. Now, I can 1,000 percent understand why the self-care portion was added. As a new mom, you’re trying to make sure your child has enough milk and other basic needs, in addition to managing the influx of loved ones who want to visit after the baby’s birth. You will forget to eat, shower, and sleep in a timely fashion. This is at no fault of your own, as it certainly happens to the best of us. Make sure you are taking care of yourself, though. This could mean taking 10 minutes to collect yourself if your baby’s crying is stressing you out. It could mean asking your partner for help so you can get that coveted few hours of shut-eye or accepting a relative’s offer to pick up food for you on the way to your home for a visit. If you’re like me, accepting help may make you feel weak, less than, or lazy (even after recovering from major abdominal surgery). The sooner you realize that you are none of these things, the better (note to self). Everyone needs help sometimes, even if we resist it even from our partners. Accepting help strengthens your bond with people and allows you to be the best mom you can be. Everyone needs a break from time to time.
Own your birth story.
If you struggle with mental health issues, acceptance can be one of the most rewarding achievements when you reach it. If you’re anything like me, acceptance is the most challenging stage to reach, and I will admit to you that I don’t have all of the answers. I haven’t reached acceptance in many facets of my life, but I do fully accept my birth story. It hasn’t been a perfect journey toward acceptance, and most women will struggle with this. Many times, our child’s path into this world is not cut and dry. We won’t get our own way or vision, and we’ll have to summon resilience we didn’t even know we possessed. Originally, I wanted to have a vaginal delivery, but because of my breech child and other medical issues, I was forced to schedule a C-section. In the end, it worked out better for me and for our son, even if the recovery can be a bit more brutal. (Every recovery after birth is challenging in its own way!)
Be prepared for others to critique your decisions and story. As long as you know you made the right choices for you and your child, you are well equipped to handle the bumpy roads of public opinion. I also can’t tell you to love your newfound stretch-marked skin and other changes, as you will have to come to positive conclusions for yourself. I am still learning to adjust to changes, too. Use your story, no matter how happy, tragic, or in between, to help others.
I am still in the fourth trimester, but as the months go by (and my child gets bigger — where does the time go?!), I am confident that I will be able to manage my mental health, taking care of my child, and more. It’s a perfectly imperfect journey, but like my birth story, it’s mine to own and tell for years to come.
And I don’t need to tell you this, but enjoy the time with your little one. I’m learning that it goes by too quickly, so covet the fourth trimester and beyond.
If you like this article, check out: https://stories.harnessmagazine.com/the-freedom-being-a-woman/