Updated: Jun 20, 2020
Lately I've been reminiscing a lot about my most recent postpartum experience as it was a little over a year ago I was in the #FourthTrimester. It's hard to say exactly when it ended as it is such a slow gradual experience, which is ironic for something that is also so intense and all encompassing. I have been thinking about the differences between my three vastly different postpartum experiences, the challenges, the joys and the gifts.
My first is a story of loss that I will save for another time. A subject close to my heart obviously that I will share more deeply at some stage. Not the best place to start but hey this is an integral part of who I am now. If you or someone you know is experiencing loss please please reach out to me. I will say though amongst the grief my village rallied together to bring me food, cuppa's and company more than the subsequent fourth trimesters. I even had a creative and kind group of folk make lanterns and hang them in the trees of my neighbours place at sunset (with permission) so that I could see a glimmer of light and hope as the nighttime darkness set in. Yet there is a special kind of support that a grieving parent needs and our culture is still learning so much about this. I also couldn't help but think upon my recent reflections wouldn't it be wonderful if we provided a similar offering for the babies and parents that are here with us also. A beacon of light, a message from the village, quietly and respectfully saying, we're here.
My second and first postpartum time with a baby in my arms was close to ideal in many ways. I was living with my partner and his parents. I had a huge amount of pressure taken off me, around the house, cooking, caring of the baby. I was often brought food to eat in the lounge room, warm teas. Cooked delicious Filipino food including a particular postpartum dish that I will put in my recipe book. There were many mornings someone would come to get the baby and allow me to sleep for an extra hour to recoup a little from a long night of breastfeeding. I could often ask someone to hold bub or listen out for her while I showered.
I still struggled a little with breastfeeding for the first few weeks, my boobs were engorged, nipples were sore and bubs mouth small. I persevered and after about 2 weeks it all fell into place, luckily. Really this has a lot to do with luck than some special skill I was naturally born with. There are so many factors to consider with breastfeeding; correct latch (this was partly my issue), tongue ties, Mama's health, emotional and physical, very very rarely supply and many other elements. I really had no idea just how many hours I would spend breastfeeding! I loved it mostly, but the sleepless nights and shoulder and pain from nursing so much can be depleting at times. I remember counting how many hours I was spending breastfeeding at one point and it totalled anywhere from 7-10 hours a day! I would get so so hungry and snack on left overs or toast a lot. That is why I believe healthy snacks are equally important to healthy delicious meals for a new Mama.
Even with all of the above mentioned support I still experienced a sense of isolation at times. At no fault of anyone, the postpartum revolution is a cultural issue. My partner and Mother-in-law worked and led busy lives. I had a few beautiful and special close friends visit, some Mothers some not, all brought food, helping hands and words of heartfelt emotional support and reassurance. These three things really are essential ingredients. There were many solo days and nights and many emotional moments, some flowed freely, mostly in private. I probably could have shared them more, but honestly I didn't really know how to. Motherhood would soon teach me the ways of vulnerable strength.
Sometimes I felt like my partner and I were in different dimensions a lot of the time and in some ways we probably were. Our meeting ground was our immense mutual love for our new baby but our realities, starkly different. He was sleeping more, going to work out in the world. I was sleeping less and doing my important subtle work inside the nestled womb of the fourth trimester. I've since learnt that Women and Men can both have huge hormonal changes in the fourth trimester. The Mama obviously has the hormonal shift from pregnancy to postpartum, with a cocktail of hormones, fluctuating progesterone/oestrogen, prolactin and the newly famous love and bonding friend, oxytocin, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation all playing a role. The Papa can have an oxytocin increase as he falls in love with his new baby and sometimes more deeply with his partner, but elevated testosterone is also common, driving a biological urge to protect one's family, perhaps manifesting as a last minute and urgent renovation or some other high energy release! This can, in my belief contribute greatly to the feeling of disconnection during this time. Just by being informed about this I feel we can be better prepared for making slight shifts in how we connect as couples and bridge what I have called the "Great Divide". Build a bridge, walk onto it and kiss each other gently.
My second and most recent, was a very different experience. I had started researching postpartum cultural practices more deeply during this pregnancy, but did not have the knowledge or confidence to really create my postpartum dream. I did cook meals ahead of time and freeze them. I had nurturing teas ready. This time around my family and I now lived in our own home, I had a toddler in the mix and way less in-home support. Again my partner Sean and my Mother-in-law Susie worked. Susie came out a day or two a week to help with my eldest and bring food, she would also send food home with Sean from work. What a gift this has been and I almost still feel guilty expressing my challenges despite the support I had. But that is not what this is about, this is about truthful conversations regarding the reality that the Mama's in our lives and our communities are experiencing. It's about evolving and moving forward with more understanding, compassion and know-how.
The isolation was intensified this time. I had an extremely difficult cesarean and recovery as there had been major adhesions on my my abdominal/uterus. The hospital staff were supportive but I now recognise that I had #Birthtrauma from the difficulties of the surgery and the immense shock my body experienced. This has led me to consider the vast impacts of body trauma and how it impacts the nervous system. A topic for another time. I was learning not only to be a #NewbornMother again but to be the mother of a toddler, a juggling act many have managed before me, but there were moments I was quite sure not only had I dropped the balls but I had lost them. The days were hazy and the nights long. I cried a lot and slept little. I was hungry much of the time, for food although the fridge and cupboards were full, it was hard to serve myself. I was also hungry for companionship, the kind of ever-present support I had just started to learn was a necessity for ALL mothers around the world up until quite recently.
On the flip-side I had quite a few friends offer support, bring meals, company, but I should have said yes more, asked for help more, let my house be messy more or please come over and make my lunch while I breastfeed. It's really hard to let go, be vulnerable to receive and to ask... but I believe in doing so we will contribute to and important cultural shift. So at the risk of being a little pushy, after asking if I can support a friend during postpartum I tell them that I will be coming around with food and ask what chores they least like doing or, when it's done helps them relax the most. I tell them I'm not there as a guest but a helper and I remind them that literally millions of Women before us were given this period of rest.
But back to my story.... there were moments I was in the flow, the warm winter into spring sunshine would warm our bones on the verandah as we moved through slow mornings into slow days. A beautiful slowness, a gentle moment by moment timelessness. Sweet sweet love filled moments unfolding before my eyes of a growing love between sisters. Nights where we all slept together in-front of the fire on the new queen sized couch. I'd found my balls!
And then the balls would drop and be lost amongst the toddler tantrums, washing piles, growing dishes and all round chaos. You see while juggling is a really amazing skill... the postpartum time is not one to be running away with the circus as tempting as that may be. It's not a time to be juggling, but a time to be bonding with baby, resting and being nurtured. So next time you see a new Mama juggling, sit her down, make her food and tea, take the kids for a play and hang some washing out. I almost want to have another baby with my newfound knowledge. Almost.... and yes I would hire a Postpartum Doula and call on my village much more.
Oh and never underestimate the power of positive words. One heartfelt sentence that was said to me while breastfeeding during my second fourth trimester has stayed so potent, "Oh look at bubba's latch, well done Mama". As simple as that, no more no less, I can literally still feel the oxytocin wave come over me, the "you've got this gig" from one Woman to another.
Thanks for reading this personal share, really just a glimpse into something beyond words.