Why Didn't Anyone Warn Me? The Four Trimesters
It's been a minute...
Nearly a year ago I started this blog/website/business with these grand ideas of a side project to fulfill my passions. It was great and I was so excited... then I took a pregnancy test...
Of course, Mike and I were so excited to start this next adventure together but I definitely didn't know what to expect. The past year has been full of the wildest ups and downs and it's all been a blur and today marks the end of my fourth trimester. The supposed magical 12 week mark that everyone says means the end of newborn fog, the start to feeling better, and the end??? of physical recovery (LOL). My son is almost 3 months old and he is by far the cutest "thing" that has ever happened to me but boy is he not easy. But... lets back up. I should also warn you that this is not positive. This is not a glowing review of pregnancy. It's honest and a little pessimistic.
Nearly 11 months ago I took a pregnancy test and from that moment on my life would never be the same. That sounds dramatic and if you don't have kids you're like yeah no shit Brittany but I can't express enough how much change happens after that day. What is painted as a magical time for parents was just.. not. Almost immediately after finding out I was pregnant I started with the extreme nausea and fatigue. This is standard apparently and come to find out every ailment I felt was "normal". I mean I wasn't vomiting every 5 seconds but I just... could not function and I was shook. I did not understand how so many people in the world do this and like... survived? Worked? Took care of other kids? Got pregnant again?! Working seemed impossible. I could barely even get myself out of bed, how could I go care for 30+ patients a day while also.. pretend I wasn't pregnant? I hadn't reached that magical 12 week mark where it seems safe to share your news. I was spotting every day (also normal apparently????) and had no idea how this would go. So I just suffered in silence like every other woman. Honestly, that should have been a hint that this wouldn't be fun. I missed work. I missed dinners. I missed family events.
Of course, slowly I started to feel "better". While I could get up off the couch, I still got nauseous almost every day until 20 weeks. I would have better days here and there but definitely never felt back to normal. Then as the nausea, fatigue, and general feeling of death started to improve, but belly finally started to grow. As this happened, everything else stretched, and pulled and tore. My pelvis felt like it was being split in two. My back hurt. I was soooo weak. And this just progressively worsened until the end at which point I was so miserable I am shocked Mike stayed with me TBH.
The funniest part this experience was when I would talk to people who were pregnant recently they would all just sort of laugh and say "yeah it sucks". WHAT?! In my head I thought 'surely this cannot be how everyone feels'. Turns out it is, and we all just suffer silently and don't talk about it. Why didn't a single person tell me this is what it felt like? Why didn't a single book or movie illustrate just how terrible you can feel? Why didn't someone sit me down and say pregnancy is wonderful for a lot of reasons but truthfully it can be one of the hardest times in your life. That you may feel like you're on the spinning teacups 24/7, you will be starving but also can't eat anything because of the nausea, you'll be so exhausted but can't sleep. You'll get headaches, a stuffy nose, hemorrhoids, constipation, and heartburn directly from hell itself. Oh and to top it all off, society doesn't want to hear you complain. They would like you to be as pleasant and happy as possible while also just continuing on with your life as if you WEREN'T PREGNANT. I worked with COVID+ patients, flu+ patients, angry patients, patients with communicable diseases and patients who wanted doctors notes to be excused from work for a week for a stuffy nose. Lets just say my empathy tank was a little low...
But then came the end, we were going to have a baby! A beautiful baby boy and although pregnancy was miserable it was low risk and uncomplicated. I planned my birth (per my OBGYN request), I designed his nursery, we had the shower and all was well until 35 weeks when I had my checkup and found out my little munchkin decided to get a jump start on gymnastics class and flip himself to a breech position. Simultaneously that day we had an ultrasound to confirm his position and there was a new concern regarding his growth. So in a span of 2 hours we went from no concerns to alllll the concerns. In the end, baby boy was healthy and thats all that mattered. I tried everything to get this baby to flip but he was suck up in my right rib cage and wouldn't come down for anything.
Fast forward to October 31st when we had our scheduled c section on Halloween (Mikes favorite holiday). Now here is some positivity! My birth experience was incredible. We had our son at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA. My c section was seamless, quick, and well done and the care team was unbelievable. Every single midwife, doctor, nurse and lactation consultant we saw was helpful, attentive, and kind. I can't imagine a better 5 day experience and will always be grateful for Emerson.
After we came home, postpartum began. This is, again, where I'm not sure why they don't warn you what to expect. I went from being excited and high on adrenaline to an absolute mess, and real fucking fast. First off, my son was not a good sleeper. He NEVER had that sleepy newborn phase. Even in the hospital, we just took turns holding him all night because he would cry if we put him down. I actually have a photo from the hospital with him wide awake staring at us... that's how awake he has been from day one. From day one, he never slept more than 30-45 minutes in his bassinet, a swing, a dock a tot, or anything other than our arms. It was exhausting. To top it off I was recovering from major abdominal surgery, trying to learn to breastfeed, and entertaining guests who wanted to meet the baby.
I love my friends and family and I was thankful they wanted to be around our new little bundle of joy but it wasn't easy. I also was struggling with breastfeeding which is ALSO NOT TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH. I was fortunate enough that in the hospital my son latched immediately and well and my milk came in on day 2. There was absolutely no indication that I would struggle as much as I did. As the days and weeks went on my son's latch worsened, my flow increased, and we were both constantly covered in milk crying all the time. Breastfeeding (postpartum too) is such a hormonal roller coaster. It wasn't until we had a lactation consultant come to the house to help us that I really even understood what my body was going through. Once I got my son to latch again he started to also refuse a bottle. It was insane. First he wouldn't feed from me, then he wouldn't take a bottle, then he wouldn't feed from me again... how is it possibly this hard to feed your child?!?!
As the weeks went on, we were in limbo. Trying to survive on minimal sleep and the hormonal mess I had become. Every time I talked to a friend who had a baby they all sort of echoed the same thing, "oh yeah I remember that its awful but it will pass". Which was helpful but also not. Maybe if I had been more prepared it would have been easier? Maybe giving pregnant woman a realistic look as to what to expect would be helpful? Or maybe it wont. Maybe the reason people have more than one child is we all forget this.
Now at 12 weeks, our journey has changed significantly from that first day. We are sleeping longer. We are strictly pumping and bottle feeding (I could write an entire book on this journey , let me tell you). We are smiling and laughing and we actually nap in our bassinet now (thank god for the snoo). But things are not 100% peachy. I have a c section scar thats keloiding so my body will probably never look the way it did before. I am tied to a pump multiple hours a day meaning my entire life revolves around my boobs. I rarely talk to people about things other than my baby. I am just starting to be able to do things like exercise again and feel so weak its hard to sit in chairs for long periods of time. I haven't worn real clothes in 12 weeks and have to do things like plan when to shower and eat my dinner in 5-10 minutes.
Motherhood is incredibly isolating. And it sounds so dramatic to say that but this is truly the hardest thing I have ever done. Also whats the point of this post? I'm not even sure. I think I want every other mom in the world to know that I see you. I hear you. Pregnancy and postpartum is physically and emotionally debilitating but unlike injuries, surgeries, or chronic illnesses, we are expected to be happy, grateful and positive. We are expected to work 12 weeks after we have a child. We are expected not to complain. This needs to change. Society needs to understand what truly goes into raising a child and women need more preparation.
With all that being said, I can truly say the first time my son smiled at me it was magical. He laughed for the first time the other day and I cried. My relationship with my husband is so strong and watching him become a father has been a core memory. My mom has been the most supportive grandmother and we wouldn't be able to do this without her. I also have grown so much closer to my friends with kids and appreciate them and their advice more than anything. I made a promise to myself recently to start taking more pictures and videos so I can remember all this because I know for certain I will regret it if I don't.
Now for my pregnancy and postpartum advice/ things I wish someone told me
Call in sick. Just do it. If you have the option of going on disability early, also do that. Do not feel bad because you know the guy who sits next to you doesn't feel guilty about calling in for his man cold.
You're not crazy. You will feel it but you are not crazy.
Exercise as much as you can. This sounds nearly impossible but its so important later. Especially stretching!!
If you do not have a supportive partner, do not have a baby. Again, extreme but I would have died without Mike and I do not believe we are meant to do this alone.
Do not make major life decisions if you can avoid it. (Baby brain is real)
Take Tylenol PM (lol) so you can sleep without pain.
Magnesium is your best friend, take as much as you can manage.
Take the drugs that are approved for things: pepcid, prilosec, tylenol... don't just suffer.
Be honest with your friends about how you feel if they ask.
Spend money on the nursery (if you can). This may be terrible advice but its a safe space for us and it was so fun building together and truly one of my best memories. We spend so much time in there and I love that he has his own space.
Buy as many pillows as possible.
If you want to breastfeed, take a breastfeeding course, talk to lactation consultants ahead of time, and ask your friends about their experiences. There are free courses online, but learn about it so you know what to expect and aren't blindsided.
DO PRENATAL AND POSTNATAL PHYSICAL THERAPY. This should be mandatory for every single pregnant person.
Cry when the baby cries
Shower every single day, seriously. Take 5-10 minutes a day to just "get ready". Shower, do your hair, put some mascara on... anything to make you feel more human.
Get an Aerie credit card because you will be living in comfortable clothes.
When your milk comes in, it will hurt. I'm not sure what happens when you don't breastfeed but holy shit my boobs were like giant boulders that leaked constantly for days. It was horrible and I was very unprepared for that.
You will feel extremely anxious when the sun goes down the first few weeks. Not sure why, it might pass, but if it doesn't talk to your doctor. Then for some reason you'll probably feel fine in the morning....
Night sweats are awful but they pass quickly. Buy extra sheets.
If they offer you more time in the hospital, take it.
Force visitors to bring you food or coffee. If they want to visit, they need to bring you a meal and stay for at most 1 hour unless you say otherwise.
Order take out and don't feel guilty.
Do not try to get your baby on a schedule until at least 4-6 weeks. (I tried, obviously. And failed, also obviously).
Pick someone to talk and complain to. Have at least ONE friend that will listen to everything about your baby and actually care. Their sleep, their eating habits, their tantrums. You need that person. (shout out to Molly, she's my savior and I don't know what I would have done without her during this whole process)
Do not make any crazy changes to a baby's diet OR your diet between 5-8 weeks. Every single baby has this ridiculously gassy period and every single parent thinks something is wrong. Seriously, you should have seen the "babies due November 2022 group" at that time. They will get over it and you will too. You will lose your mind thinking its something your eating, something their eating, the formula, the breast milk. You name it, you will think of it but they will just... get over it. (Of course unless they have an actual medical problem).
The most important things in your home will be a good rocker/glider, headphones, and a long phone charger for weeks at a time.
Download audiobooks, podcasts, or music to listen to during late night feeds so you're not sitting in silence crying wondering if your baby will ever sleep and if this is the rest of your life...
Breastfeeding is an amazing thing we are able to do for our children. Breastmilk is magical but mental health is really important. Someone said once "don't quit on your hardest day" and that really stuck with me and got me to where I am today. We tried and tried and it may still work out one day but for now our plans changed and I'm at peace with that. But I needed to make that decision when I was rational, calm, and my child wasn't screaming while I tried to feed him. I also think it's important to point out that a lot of people feel like "society" pressures them into breastfeeding and I want to say that not a single person in my life pressured me into breastfeeding. Every single person has actually said the opposite since we struggled so much. The lactation consultant. The doctor. The pediatrician. The only person who can pressure you is yourself... and maybe your baby... It is a full time job and do not underestimate that.
If you have a baby who is a bad sleeper, don't look up sleep advice and don't listen to anyone unless they also had a bad sleeper. The advice is also trivial and not helpful. I did it all, white noise machines, swaddles, the snoo, black out room.. and it took WEEKS for me to be able to even put him down for some of his sleep. Until they are at least 6-8 weeks old... sleep is all random I swear. If you do want to take a class, take one that a LOT of people recommend, read books backed by science and take every single piece of advice as a suggestion and not gospel.
And the most important:
Every single baby and family is different. You can do everything "right" but a baby will still be a baby. You can do things exactly like the mom next to you and their baby may sleep through the night at 6 weeks and yours may never sleep through the night. You can have a perfectly latched baby on day 1 and then all of a sudden a baby who refuses to breastfeed at 9 weeks. Your child will not develop exactly the same as the baby next to them. Yes there are things you can do to make your life and your child's life better, but give yourself grace and keep telling yourself, "its just a phase". It's okay not to love every moment of parenting *she tells herself*
And even more important
1/5 of women giving birth experience postpartum depression or other related mood disorders,
It's normal to feel out of sorts the first few weeks after giving birth, i.e. the baby blues. Your hormones are all over the place, you're sleep deprived, your partnership has changed and so many other things. What isn't normal is for those baby blues to start to interfere with the ability to care for yourself or your baby.
If you start to feel extreme fear, guilt, disconnect from your child, please ask for help. What may seem mild at first can shift to hallucinations, rage, and psychosis.
Talk to someone. Your partner, a friend, a doctor, a doula, anyone.
If you need to, place them on their back in their crib and walk away. A baby never died from crying, but babies have died at the hands of their mothers in postpartum psychosis.
If you feel unsafe - call the national maternal mental health hotline: 833-943-5746