I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts for as long as I can remember; hovering over the publish button again and again- forever unsure of what the real point of posting it might be. Is it a cathartic exercise? Am I just having a waffle?
Seeing ‘content appropriate’ days like International day of the Midwife and Maternal Mental Health Week come and go made me think if I wasn’t going to write anything about things then, would I ever?
But those times, and the stories I saw online made me think a lot about my experience after birth, and the times since- and actually as long as I have maternal mental health; this matters- and also, if one person finds a small bit of comfort in this during a 3am feed (or even tries to read this and just uses the light from their phone to keep them awake when a small person needs them)- then I’ve done my job.
This post was originally going to be called ‘what happened after the jacket potato’, as I know I touched on the magic of the postnatal jacket potato being a perk of a prolonged hospital stay, but refrained for anyone not completely up to speed (you can read my birth story here, if you’d like).
Anyway- I guess I wanted to write a post that I know I would have liked to read in those hazy post birth days. The days where you expect to be wrapped up in a cosy safe bubble of freshly washed muslins, homemade and hand delivered lasagnes and visitors and flowers- which is brilliant if you have, and sometimes feels a little bit unexpected when things don’t pan out that way.
I think there’s a lot of pressure for a gorgeous bubble-like experience after birth, and for me; I felt enormous guilt that I didn’t experience that immediately. Okay my birth had looked different to the one I’d perhaps imagined, but I hadn’t even considered how varied the postnatal experience could be too. Perhaps this was a huge oversight on my part, but I think I was so swept up in the fact I hadn’t changed a nappy since my Tiny Tears demanded it of me or ever had to prepare a bottle to consider what might happen beyond getting home; whenever that might be.
Up until the birth itself I could have put money on the fact I’d be home that evening, maybe the next evening at a push- because that’s what happens isn’t it? I’d never considered that my overnight bag would need to be repacked up to 8 times, ending up filled with panic-bought Sainsbury’s pants in whatever size they had and the same clothes again and again- and honestly, I don’t think I quite realised what a profound effect staying in hospital had on me until recently.
I remember in the weeks after coming out- several times saying to Joe, ‘I think I’m going to ask about some help’. And like getting my nails done, shaving my legs and sorting out my underwear drawer; it became a task I just couldn’t find time for- but unlike hairy pins or bras that didn’t fit this was my mental health. After scrolling through my phone recently to find a photo for ‘Interntional day of the Midwife’, I welled up seeing pictures from our first few days in hospital.
The overwhelm of being alone when you have no idea what you’re doing; wondering how to harvest colostrum and thinking why you didn’t start weeks before- to being readmitted after 4 days of being in, having one evening at home- only to spend another 4 in hospital when you thought you might be able to get used to being at home. And the milk coming in- THE MILK. Being readmitted into hospital when your milk comes in, as well as juggling jaundice and hypertension made me think I might genuinely have been losing my marbles at one point.
I’d heard about preeclampsia, but nobody had mentioned post eclampsia and hypertension. I spent hours digging into Google to find out how I could lower blood pressure overnight (tip: Dr. Liv realised taking out your contact lenses won’t lower it, guys)- and it was in those days following the birth I felt I’d been ever so slightly robbed of the baby bubble and the gentle entrance we’d so anticipated.
But I know we were lucky. We had support, and care, and were checked in on, and I know so many other brilliant women that had impossibly challenging situations after birth too- it’s so much more common than I could have anticipated; but goodness I just wish our NCT class could have touched on those days following too. The heady magic mixed with the mighty overwhelm that might rear it’s head too. The awareness of knowing how normal it is to be in hospital for a little while to help iron out any early day bumps, and how common all of these things are. How it’s okay to feel the loneliness, even with a network; the exhaustion of 2am feeds and the guilt for finding it difficult when you don’t have a difficult baby. It’s the weight of when someone says ‘this is supposed to be the most magical time’ when you’ve had rolling weeks of challenges and doctors calls and pharmacy visits; and the guilt of wondering why this magical time feels hard because you have the most magical small precious bean who you love more than anything and are so, so lucky to have. So lucky. It’s because things can be hard- life is hard. The juggle; christ the juggle. It’s hard. It won’t always be, but it is and can be- and that’s okay.
As silly as it sounds, at the time of feeling this last year I felt like the first woman in the world to be going through these things. It was only afterwards, chatting with friends who already had children; did I realise that so many have had experiences not so dissimilar themselves.
Motherhood is the single most special thing that’s happened to me; but it’s also like learning a brand new job on the day you start. It’s moving into accounting when you’ve never seen numbers before, heading up a kitchen when you’ve never so much as made a slice of toast. It’s a lot; but it’s possible and gets easier each day. The challenges change and evolve with time, but like a job you’ve been doing for years, you feel confident in your experience- to the point soon you’re pretty irreplaceable at the role, which is saying something indeed.