What happens to your body and your mind after you leave the hospital?
Doctors and fellow parents are good for the most part at prepping you for the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth.
I was prepared for the weight gain, the pain, the hormonal fluctuations and even the labor complications. But what I wasn’t prepared for, what nobody told me to anticipate, were the challenges my body and mind faced during the first year of my son’s life.
It began the morning after his birth. I sat up in bed and was immediately greeted with a hot, stinging sensation across the freshly stitched incision from my emergency c-section; it was unlike any pain I’d ever encountered. Each movement felt like it would tear the stitches. Needing help to use the bathroom, reach for a drink or sit up to eat wasn’t part of my new motherhood plan, but I did my best to struggle through it.
Unfortunately it was made all the more difficult on my return home from hospital as it became increasingly apparent that sleep was now a luxury, and after several weeks, fatigue began to plague my entire being, wreaking havoc on my body, mind and spirit in ways I’d never anticipated as my new bundle of joy slept for barely an hour at a time. Not just during the day, but around the clock, seven days a week, for what seemed like an eternity.
Trying to function around a new intermittent sleeping schedule was like trying to run a continuous marathon, and to add to my woes, I lost my desire to eat. The mere thought of food made me nauseous in my critically sleep-deprived state. I would’ve gladly given up ten of my most beloved meals for more than a single hour of unbroken sleep.
So having no urge or energy to prepare food and lacking the confidence to leave the house with a brand new baby, I lived off take away my hubby picked up after work or home grown stone fruit, plucked from the trees as I hung out endless loads of washing.
My poor diet and lack of sleep made milk production near impossible, and trying to feed a nine pound, ten ounce baby a squirt at a time was a tedious chore which took hours. Adding insult to injury, my son suckled impatiently as the milk supply dwindled, making my breasts ache relentlessly.
More often than not, tears of pure exhaustion and pain rolled down my face as I fed him, willing the milk to come and the aching to stop. Finally gave into my fatigue and swapped to the bottle. Relived at my decision, I waited for the pain to dissipate, but my eagerness to switch to the bottle without weaning from breastfeeding meant my breasts became engorged, as the milk supply had no outlet, so even wearing a bra became unbearable.
My chronic fatigue nagged at me as often as my son stirred or cried out for another feed, and I began to feel like a physical and emotional wreck. Being home alone with a baby as my husband returned to work was overwhelming and incredibly lonely. My personal hygeine took a backseat as even a three minute shower while my son slept was a near impossible task, so I began to live in my pajamas, abandoning my grooming reigime in pursuit of an hour or two of unbroken rest wherever I could get it.
Inevitably resentment reared it ugly head as I enviously watched my husband come and go from work and continue living his life as he’d done before our son was born; wedging a gap in our relationship. My desire to spend time with my husband or share any sort of intimacy began to fade as my longing for the simple luxuries and freedoms like showering, sleeping and leaving the house to talk to friends intensified. Instead of feeling the joy I was told was a certainty of motherhood, I felt alone and isolated from everyone around me. I was drowning both physically and mentally.
Six months into the task of parenting I decided it was time to get it together. I knew I needed to take better care of myself so I could care for our baby, and was desperate to shed the pregnancy weight that hung around me like a thick cloud with no time for exercise or healthy eating.
So, slowly but surely, I began forcing myself to eat regular healthy meals and started drinking copious amounts of water. Miraculously, despite my continued sleep deprivation, I had way more energy. My skin became softer and my hair regained its enviable shine.
Mentally I felt much more positive and feeling more confident, decided to bite the bullet and take my son out of the house to join a mothers support group. Talking to a room full of other mothers going through the same struggles and anxieties as I was helped me come to terms with the resentment I’d been feeling toward my husband and to reopen the communication channels necessarry for me to get the extra support and personal time back I so desperately craved.
Luckily my first son was a very quiet baby, because the combination of swinging hormones, body changes, sleep deprivation and social isolation were challenging enough to battle through without the addition of middle-of-the-night screaming and crying.
Though it was one of the most difficult and physically trying years of my life, being able to emerge from the other side of it unscathed allowed me to regroup and regain the confidence I needed to ask for help and trust in my body’s instincts. So three years later, when I became a mother again, there were no surprises after we left the hospital.
Comment: Do you think doctors under-prepare mothers for the physical and emotional challenges of the first year of motherhood?