I am embarrassed to say that it never occurred to me to educate myself about how life would be different — both practically and emotionally — in the weeks after Alice’s arrival. Everyone always says “your body will never be the same.” Or other parents would laugh knowingly when I said things like “I’m moving into a co-working space four weeks later” or “I’ll just bring her along to the photoshoot” or “I’ll just work while I’m nursing.”
What would have been more helpful is if people had given me specific examples of adjustments they made after giving birth. So knowing that, here are my observations as a new mom of three weeks. I can’t speak about cesarean recovery or anything other than my own experience, but here we go:
Have a dedicated postpartum wardrobe.
There are a few reasons for this! First, you will want to be able to move freely as you slump into every chair and couch in the house holding your infant, as well as be able to change quickly when your clothes get soiled. And when I say “soiled” I don’t just mean baby poop — I mean sweat (yours and baby’s), lochia, soapy water from baths, snot, tons and tons of milk (which doesn’t smell so great after a few hours), and any other body fluid you can imagine.
I recommend getting lots of pairs of XXXXXL cotton underwear, solid colored yoga-type pants (you can wear them in public), solid-colored nursing tanks (I love the ones from Target), and knit cardigans and shawl-type sweaters. Things that wash easily and can be mixed and matched. And I didn’t expect to be changing my shirt three to four times a day, so I also recommend buying more than you think you need.
Skip buying maxi pads and just get Depends
Especially for the first week after childbirth, just get these. The amount of discharge that I had was not like a “heavy period.” It was like a mass murder bloodbath. I had no concept of postpartum bleeding and I wish I had known what to expect.
The lack of sleep hasn’t been that hard to cope with.
I think mothers must get some kind of new hormone that helps them feel better with less rest. I’ve been getting sleep in four-hour blocks (except on the weekends, when Dave lets me sleep in), but I don’t feel that my energy level is diminished. I don’t know if other mothers have similar experiences though.
You might not feel clean for a while.
I never really feel clean although I shower every day (a privilege, I know). Milk dries on my skin, I sweat a lot more than normal, and the changes in my hormones have changed the balance of oils on my skin, causing acne.
Once again, I had no idea how much postpartum bleeding there would be.
Four hours can go by in a moment when I’m trying to calm the baby or do “Alice chores.” In four hours, I can answer all my e-mail or make six headbands or 20 boutonnieres or a posie bouquet, and have time to meet a friend for lunch or a client for a meeting. Or in four hours, I can feed Alice and give her a bath. Or do a load of laundry and make myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe.
Nothing I bought has been more important than washcloths.
Tons and tons of the plainest, most ordinary cheap white washcloths. They work as burp rags (we save our cloth diapers to actually use as diapers), to wipe off sweat and spit-up, and most importantly they soak up all the milk that leaks all over all day long. I was proud to buy several sets of handmade nursing pads from Etsy, but for me they work for about two minutes. Instead I put folded washcloths in my shirts and I go through about eight per day. I know there are bigger problems — I’m glad nursing is going well — but leaking is cold and wet and inconvenient.
People will judge you no matter what.
Someone will always think you’re the worst mom ever. I recommend not asking anyone for their opinion unless you really want to hear it.
Although babies sleep 16-19 hours a day, I still don’t often find more than an hour or two to get anything done.
I have mastered sewing while nursing, and being able to hold the baby in a wrap helps, but when baby naps there are so many other things to do — tidying the living room for the barrage of guests constantly arriving, keeping the dishes done so the baby can take baths in the sink at a moment’s notice, keeping breast pump/bottles washed immediately so they don’t get stinky, constantly running loads of laundry up and down the stairs and folding the laundry. Plus work.
Some days are harder than others
I have two side projects due to clients and I’ve been up for the last seven hours with my wide-awake, alert genius baby. Now it’s almost 5pm and dad will be home, so hopefully I can take that time to tackle those work projects! What a lesson in prioritizing this has been.