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Post baby “bliss”

Tales of a 4th Trimester Nothing

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Hi friend! Please enjoy the following piece of writing on the unrealistic expectations and ideals facing mothers in our culture. It was written by this month’s guest author Rachel Kimsey, who is a voice actor and coach, retired fitness professional, and “mediocre homesteader” (her words!) with three kids, two cats, a dog, and way too many chickens.


Big hug,

Jessi

 

There is no winning for birthing people in America.


Image of a person holding a young baby
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite

The expectations for new parents (and in particular, new moms) are so polarized— you can either be a soft-focus, natural-beige-fiber-wearing, nurturing goddess of a Celebrate Your Curves mama, or you can be an inspirational Fit Mom who posts makeup-and-bikini photos of yourself holding a 3 month old with captions like “9 months to put it on, 9 months to take it off, hang in there, you got this!”


Either way, the moment that pregnancy test comes back positive, emails and targeted ads start pouring in for trimester-by-trimester workout programs, and seminars on birthing. Then once the baby arrives, its ads for Bounce Back Body programs and Baby Sleep Specialists!


My first pregnancy was a “geriatric pregnancy,” which is to say I was over thirty-five years old when it happened.


It didn’t occur to me to let that term hurt my feelings, because I was acutely aware of how incredibly lucky I was to have gotten pregnant by choice, the first time we tried, while closing in on forty. The actual experience of that term, however, was excruciatingly painful for the bulk of the pregnancy, as my “geriatric” body worked out how to deconstruct itself for this new adventure.


Exercise was off the table for me during that time, despite being a yoga teacher and crossfit coach. By the time I wasn’t in pain anymore I was well into my 3rd trimester, and my friends, boss, and even strangers had started gawping out loud at my growing body, declaring it “huge”, “massive”, and “overwhelming”.


Gosh. Thank you.


Then, following a traumatic birth and emergency c-section, I was suddenly faced with mourning the loss of the opportunity for the unmedicated birth I had planned on, while also trying to literally reconstruct my body after major surgery, and—oh yeah!–-caring for a ten pound baby that didn’t sleep, and who had colic, acid reflux, and protein allergies. I remember people telling me how lucky I was to be able to breastfeed during that time, because “the weight would just fall off.” I was also being told that breastfeeding was the Best Thing I could do for my baby; their health, happiness and well-being were all in the cradle of my arms.


Right now it’s 3 am, and I’m nursing my new baby for the fourteenth time in twenty-four hours, as sepia tone videos of moms gently swaying their babies to sleep are hot and heavy on my social media algorithm. (Meanwhile my baby has been screaming in pain every minute she’s been awake for the majority of those last twenty-four hours.)


Suddenly a reminder pops up on my phone that just 20 minutes a day of doing my postpartum recovery program will help me look better and feel better “for me and for my family. You’ve got this mama!”


It’s only three hours into this day, and I am not only failing at peacefully ushering my child into cosleeping bliss, I’m also failing at doing “more than literally nothing” to “get my body back.”


Right after my first baby was born, I couldn’t stand or walk without help, I was nursing sixteen to twenty-two times a day, I was sleeping a disconnected four to five hours a day, and I was navigating postpartum anxiety and depression that I wouldn’t fully recognize for over a year. But yes– I was “so lucky” that breastfeeding would “give me my body back.”


Only, it didn’t. My body didn’t belong to me anymore, it belonged to the life I made, and it was never going “back” to anything. Not to its previous size, not to its previous shape, and not to its previous (blissful) ignorance of the state of my pelvic floor.


When I not only didn’t magically lose weight breastfeeding (and actually instead gained weight), I was informed by well-meaning friends and family that I just needed to “put myself first” in order to reshape my body into what they assumed it should be.


Meanwhile, despite the fact that I waslucky enough” to have a strong milk supply, every supplement company on the internet seemed to find me, and try to sell me milk-boosting teas and tinctures and treats, because a Good Mom does everything she can to support her baby’s health! My oversupply of milk and heavy letdown weren’t allowed to be challenges because there’s nothing to buy for that, and folks struggling with not having enough milk don’t want to hear from those with too much. I was supposed to only feel grateful.


During that time, I donated hundreds of ounces of Human Milk for Human Babies (and was glad to do it!) but I wasn’t allowed in the sisterhood of Feeding Babies is Effing Hard, because my struggle didn’t fit the right “mold” of an Influencer Mom who shares her vulnerable story with a discount code for milk-increasing supplements.


Still though… I struggled.


Image of a person holding a crying baby with a laptop and dog nearby
Photo by Sarah Chai

I didn’t feel like the magical vessel that could celebrate my stretch marks with glitter or photoshoots bearing fertility flowers and fruits. I didn’t feel entitled to the Earth Mama title— after all, I hadn’t even managed to have a natural birth! Yes I breastfed (uncovered!) all day and night, but it was searingly painful, and there’s not supposed to be any wincing in Birth Goddess land. We had already missed the golden hour after birth, and now we couldn’t even figure out comfortable side-lying nursing!


There was also no time or energy for a post-baby “snap back,” no matter how much the internet wanted to sell me belly wraps and mummy-tummy workouts. I couldn’t find time to wash my hair for goodness sake; certainly didn’t have time to do donkey kicks or wall pilates! And while my c-section sutures masked any diastasis recti, they were also very painful and each scar tightened with keloids. I also acutely felt the difference in my energy, mobility, and well-being (compared to prepregnancy), and I just wanted to not be in pain all the time!


Had I set myself up for this mismatch of expectation and experience? I was a former fitness pro, but I’d also researched home birth and hypnobirthing. I’d looked into doulas, and also investigated programs that promised to make me Fit for Birth. Maybe the algorithm had just been telling me what it thought I wanted to hear.


There is so little community support for pregnant and birthing parents that wide-ranging Google search rabbit holes are sometimes the only birth and postpartum education available. But a quick search of basic prompts like “postpartum” still shows mostly workouts, Diastasis Recti fear mongering, or Body Positive Moms revealing “the truth” of (mostly thin, white women’s) bodies after babies.


Fortunately (for me, anyway), no two pregnancies or recoveries are the same, even for the same body.


My next two pregnancies got progressively easier. And though I was #blessed with three colicky babies who didn’t sleep, a world wide pandemic, and feeding/nursing challenges, we developed strategies as a family to roll with the challenges and survive, while somehow still managing to love each other.


Like all life experiences falsely presented as a binary, there are people at both ends of the post-baby spectrum. Some people find pregnancy and breastfeeding magical, while others struggle. Some stay fit or “bounce back” quickly, while others don’t. Some people even genuinely love beige cotton!


Truthfully though, most of us live somewhere in the middle, and a lot of us are just surviving, and doing our best not to mess up our kids too much on any given day.


There are more ways to fail at society’s expectations and ideals for new moms than there are ways to live up to them! Whether we imagined ourselves being a “thriving fit mom” or a “blissed out earth mother,” the reality is that most of our post-baby expectations and ideals are impossible. But a combination of the isolation of new parenthood, and the ubiquity of social media, makes it feel like there is an Ideal Way to Do This— that everyone else has figured it out, and you’re the only one failing.


The truth is that there is no “bouncing back” because time only goes forward, and any person that has been pregnant will be forever changed. Some of those changes will be welcome and wonderful, some will be painful and challenging and force us to re-examine our whole self-concept, and some will just come as a total shock.


You don’t have to love all of these changes. In fact, it’s probably not even possible to do so. (Body neutrality for the win!)


Image of a person with their hands raised in the air in celebration
Photo by SHVETS Production

For example, I will probably never get over how odd it is that my rib cage is a whole new size and shape… so much so that I now have to replace all my jackets! But I love my c-section scar in a way that totally surprises me, even though I needed a whole bunch of help and therapy to process my birth trauma. Some days I feel like a superhero because I made three whole humans from scratch, and some days I pee when I walk, my back hurts, and my nipples feel like public property.


So I may not be a blissed-out Earth Mother or a thriving Fit Mom, but after three babies I no longer feel like a failure at 3 am, and I’ll take that as a win.


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