Updated: Nov 1
As a whole, our society has gotten much better about acknowledging the difficulties associated with the postpartum period and supporting moms. Most know about postpartum depression, at the very least that it exists. However, there’s a lot of mystery and misconception around what it really looks like after a baby is born, and how that experience differs widely between women. Not a lot of people know that the postpartum experience itself is so different for everyone, with so many factors involved. Below we will cover the experiences of several different women and advice for new moms and support people, from moms themselves. These are the real, unedited stories of several women, so if you find conversations about postpartum challenging you may want to use discretion.
I became pregnant with my daughter in May of 2020, just as covid was shutting things down and the world was full of uncertainty. I got asked a lot- ‘are you scared? Are you nervous?’ The truth was that I wasn’t- not at all. Nothing had ever felt so right as the little life I was growing, the baby I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. I didn’t care about the changes ahead, and anything was going to be worth it. I felt I could conquer the world with a little head resting on my shoulder. We made our first ultrasound appointment with a private clinic so my husband could be there to see the heartbeat for the first time since the hospital wasn’t allowing visitors, and it felt like we could figure things out. I had nannied for years, I had plenty of experience. My pregnancy was horrible- I had hyperemesis and threw up as many as 12 times a day. I had to be hospitalized a few times for fluids and medicine because I couldn’t even keep water down. I continued working because I loved my job as a nanny and my husband was still in school so I was our sole provider, but chasing after two littles while insanely nauseous was hard! Around 28 weeks I began having premature contractions and my blood pressure was increasing. My doctor told me it was time to stop working for my health. It wasn’t what I had planned, and I tearfully let my boss know. After months of prodromal labor and wondering if I was going to have a preemie, hoping for her to hang in there, my daughter arrived on February 3, 2021, at 8:16 am right on time. She didn’t cry, and I was afraid something was wrong, but she was just looking around the room in total wonder. They gave her to me and I was starstruck. I wished I could bottle the feeling of looking at this beautiful, wonderful, amazing baby that I loved more than I knew was possible. I wanted to freeze time. Right away they wanted her to try latching. I was overcome by exhaustion like I’ve never felt and could barely keep my eyes open. Anika had no interest in eating and also wanted a nap. I remember being irritated with the nurse who kept shaking me awake, grabbing my breast, and shoving the baby onto it. Breastfeeding did not go as planned. By the time I left the hospital, I was bleeding and anxious. I could tell something wasn’t right, she wasn’t latching and her bottom lip wasn’t flaring. I asked about tongue and lip ties and was assured she didn’t have either (this did not end up being true, and we found out at her four-month checkup that she did have a lip tie and if it had been addressed it could’ve spared us a lot of hurt. Always trust your instinct). “Great,” I thought, “I’m the problem then”. While we were there it was a never-ending stream of nurses telling me to try harder, hold her like this, use a nipple shield but only until you leave, and keep trying even though you’re bleeding and raw. Nothing I did was working. In spite of my high pain tolerance, I dreaded trying to feed her because it was so excruciating I would cry and my toes would curl up. Surely this wasn’t how it was supposed to feel? Could all these other moms really handle this pain, but I was too weak? Anika wasn’t getting enough milk, and she was hungry and frustrated too. I begged them to give me some formula just so she would eat a little and sleep, give me a break, and we could try again later. The nurses fought me on it until I broke down in sobs and told them I felt like a failure and I just wanted my baby fed. I covered myself in lanolin. I asked for a pump in the hopes that I could get some respite from the pain but still be able to give her my milk. When my OB made her rounds the second day she prescribed me a special balm and reassured me that it was okay, breastfeeding is hard and at the end of the day, all that mattered was a fed baby. I left the hospital feeling a little bit less ashamed, with a plan to pump if she wouldn’t ever latch. It wasn’t what I had envisioned, but it would be okay. We could do this. Pumping didn’t go as planned either. It took a long time, and when my husband went back to his clinical Monday and it was just me and the baby, it was basically impossible. Every time I would get hooked up and going she would cry. I would have to undo everything because I couldn’t hold her hooked up to it all. I was engorged, and despite my constant trying to express I was almost never able to fully empty when I was home alone with her. She still wouldn’t latch right, and every time I tried to feed her directly she either didn’t get enough or the pain was so unbearable I couldn’t last more than a few minutes. I tried to follow all the advice online- staying hydrated, using the balm, and not going too long between sessions. I was exhausted and defeated and frustrated. I also experienced something called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex. Every time I pumped or fed, I was crushed with a wave of anxiety so severe it made me suicidal. By the time I was done expressing the feeling would pass, but while it was happening I would cry from how overwhelmingly anxious and scared I felt. It was like having my soul pulled out of me, and I was encompassed by a sense of dread and doom. I would tell myself it was just a feeling, it wouldn’t last, I would be okay, but it didn’t make it any less intense. I felt like a complete failure. Why could other moms do it but not me? To make things more complicated, we were moving. Just 3 weeks after my daughter was born, we moved states. A week before we were set to leave I developed severe mastitis. My temp was 104, I couldn’t stand up. I crawled with my baby to the living room to change her diaper and called my friend crying. She came and got her for the day so I could rest. I got antibiotics. My friend took Anika on her first walk while I lay in bed crying because I felt so sick, and like an utter failure. Why couldn't I do this? I was terrified that we wouldn’t have everything ready for the move and I would create more work for other people. I felt so guilty that someone else was already watching my two-week-old because I was too sick to do it. I was exhausted and sad and angry with myself. I should be able to do this. Why can’t I do this? My husband was supportive and helpful despite being at a clinical in his last semester of graduate school, but I felt like I was falling apart. I was overwhelmingly anxious about everything, and in a way that felt like it didn’t have a cause at all. I reassured myself that it would be okay- we were going to be moving in with my in-laws while my husband did his last clinical in the twin cities. I would have helped, and I didn’t have as many responsibilities there. I would be able to figure things out and manage it all soon. I did my best to talk about my feelings instead of stuffing them down, especially with my friend who had her baby a week after I had mine. Talking about things would help, I reassured myself.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel better after we moved. Instead, I felt constantly exposed and vulnerable. I was worried all the time that my in-laws thought I was a bad mother, that they thought I was lazy or incapable. I was exhausted during the day and struggled to sleep at night. My mother-in-law helped with my daughter most mornings while I slept, which I felt so guilty about, but I was too exhausted to stay awake. I felt disoriented, ashamed, exhausted, anxious, and empty. I had nightmares most nights and lay in bed crying. I felt like a burden on everyone around me and the worst mother in the entire world. My husband would ask me, worriedly, if I was thinking of hurting the baby. I knew he meant well but it made me crumble inside. Firstly, I would never ever do anything to hurt that sweet girl. Secondly, it felt like my suffering only mattered in the context of how it would affect the baby. I felt like my existence had been reduced to being a mother, and I was failing horribly at that. I didn’t want to hurt the baby, but I did want to hurt myself. At night after the baby went to bed I would struggle with knowing I should go to sleep too, but wanting to stay up and do something that made me feel like myself for a little while. It was the only time I could sit and talk with everyone, watch a show, or read. It was the only time I felt a little like me again, and I needed that so desperately. I was completely disconnected from myself, I felt disembodied. I didn’t look like me or feel like me or act like me. I knew it looked selfish and stupid- staying up late and being exhausted in the morning, letting my mother-in-law watch the baby while I napped- but I was afraid if I didn’t get that time I would lose myself completely and go off the deep end. I felt misunderstood. No matter what I did it felt wrong. I wanted to go somewhere quiet, just the baby and I, where I could relax away from watchful eyes and breathe. Somewhere I could stop pretending to be okay. Multiple times over the first 5 months after having my daughter I broke down, sobbing into my mother-in-law’s shoulder that I was sorry and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. She was a saint, taking it all in stride and trying her best to help. I had stopped trying to pump after we moved, it was making me too sick and taking such a toll on me mentally. I feel relieved and guilty for being relieved. I bought my daughter the best formula there was, but it only seemed to make her sick. She spit up constantly, arched her back, and yowled in pain. We tried gentle formula- it didn’t help. She barely napped, cried all the time, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong. We eventually tried Nutramigen, it worked and she was a much happier baby, but I still wrestled with guilt over how long she was hurting and that if I hadn’t stopped pumping she never would’ve had to feel that way. Despite all my experience in childcare and how many babies I had helped raise, it felt like I couldn’t remember anything about how to do it. I was useless and forgetful. How was it that I was a better caretaker to other people’s kids than to my own daughter? I did my best to make friends and get out thinking it would help, but I still found myself sitting alone against the wall in our room every evening, tears running down my face, feeling like I had made a horrible mistake and was failing everyone I loved. It wasn’t until about five months postpartum that I finally started to feel like myself again. The fog lifted a bit, I started working part-time, and I was sleeping a bit better. I received iron infusions that helped with my energy level, as pregnancy and birth had left me severely anemic. The lows weren’t quite so low and the anxiety wasn’t so bad, but things still felt chaotic and I still felt lost. Between a friend noticing and asking if I had ever been evaluated for ADHD, and the severity of my dysfunction I did end up being diagnosed with Attention Deficit in the fall after I had my daughter. Having her absolutely made my symptoms, which I had been able to manage fairly well before, worse. The guilt subsided, and around her first birthday, I finally started feeling like a competent mom. In spite of how bad things were in the beginning, I had no idea I had postpartum depression until after it started to get better. I desperately needed someone to see me, to see how hard I was trying, to see that what I really needed was reassurance. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, and I already felt immense guilt over being a burden so I’m not sure I would’ve even if I had. My husband's grandmother, Donna, was also living with my in-laws when we were. One morning while I sat on the floor next to my daughter and she played on her mat, Donna looked at me and said “You’re a good momma”. Those four words filled me with comfort, and I could tell she meant it. She wasn’t telling me I was a good mom because I was doing anything in particular, she was telling me because she truly thought I was. It was what I most needed to hear, and I would close my eyes and picture that moment when I was feeling sad. It made me feel so good I teared up every time I thought about it. She was the only person I didn’t feel self-conscious around at that point in time. A lot of the advice around helping a new mom that we hear involves asking her what she needs, but I didn’t know what I needed. My answer was always ‘nothing but I appreciate the thought’ because I truly was at a loss for how to answer. In retrospect I know what I needed- reassurance that I wasn’t failing, help to get back on a normal sleeping schedule, compassion, the opportunity to feel like me again, to be told I wasn’t a burden and a horrible mother, to be seen- but at the moment my head was too clouded to know what to ask for. In those months after I first had my daughter, there were a few things that held me together. My mother-in-laws exacerbated endless patience and help in spite of what a mess I was, my husband, being an involved and supportive father while also doing his final clinical, and my friend Maddie who came over multiple times a week and just hung out with me and the baby. If it weren’t for those things, I’m not sure I would’ve made it through. I want to end my story on a note of hope- a lot of good rose from my struggle. I never would’ve been diagnosed with ADHD if postpartum hadn’t exacerbarted the symptoms, and having it treated has substantially improved all areas of my life. I shared more of my raw emotions with people I trusted than I ever had before, even crying in front of other people, and learned that I could do so without being rejected. I can share my experience not only to give other women comfort that they aren’t alone and it won’t last forever but also so loved ones of a new mom can understand what it can feel like inside to have postpartum depression. Next time around I’ll know what to look for, what to ask for, and hopefully, I’ll feel less disoriented. This is just my experience, and while lots of women have similar recollections of their postpartum period, many more have completely unique stories. Sharing them helps everyone, and teaches us all how to better be the village and lift up new moms.
Iola is a mom of 6, and her most recent was just born on June 26th. Each of her postpartum experiences was different, so she had some excellent insight and advice. For Iola, her experience after her first two children was very difficult. Her husband at the time was unsupportive and so was his family. They never had discussions about their expectations of each other once the baby came, and they were on completely different pages. He felt she should be able to handle things on her own, which any mom knows is not the case. With her next 3 children, she was on her own, had more control, and felt the experience was better because of it. Her most recent baby has been the best experience of all, with a very supportive partner and family. While she was at the hospital delivering, family came and deep cleaned her house, took care of her pets, grocery shopped, and made sure everything was ready for the baby. She said she was actually able to relax upon coming home, and the best part is that there were no strings attached. The expectation was not “I will clean for you in return for baby time” but simply to be helpful. They plan to have a postpartum doula this time around, but all the help from family means that they will be able to make more use of the doula's skills in other areas. She describes the postpartum phase as dreamy. She loves getting to know the new little person she brought into the world and soaking up all the time with them. The most stressful part is managing her own health after, in particular this time around as she is experiencing postpartum hypertension. Having midwives who do more thorough care after having the baby than just a 6-week checkup is how her hypertension was caught- she didn’t have any of the traditional symptoms like swelling or headaches. This highlights specifically the gap in care for the mother once the baby is born, and how that can have dangerous implications. She has learned a lot through each of her pregnancies. She realized that it was important to have a conversation with her partner about expectations before the baby came and everyone was exhausted and emotional. She learned that ‘no’ is a complete sentence and that everyone is happier when she sets boundaries and respects her needs. She lowered her expectations of what she should be accomplishing, and let go of the idea that she needed to create a routine right away. While routines can be helpful, in younger babies they’re not usually practical and can actually create more stress than they alleviate. Sometimes it’s okay to go with the flow. She involves her older kids so that they can feel helpful and see what it really looks like to be a support for a new mom, and hopefully be able to effectively help other women in their lives down the road. This can look like asking them to fill her water or help with pets. It gives them the opportunity to be a part of the experience and connect with their mom as well as the baby and teaches them to be helpful and kind.
Leah S.’s Story
“As a first-time mom, I didn’t really know what to expect. I pictured lots of snuggles, ‘napping when the baby napped’, and being able to let go of small messes in the house like everyone tells expecting moms to do. Something that surprised me was just how much my son wanted and needed to be held, and not being able to put him down without him crying. That left me feeling run down and hungry and trying to do things one-handed. Once we figured out he liked to be swaddled and put down for naps, I couldn’t wait for that period of time to do simple things like go to the bathroom, eat, and have my hands free to tidy up. But I felt guilty for craving that time because everyone was telling me to enjoy the snuggles. Honestly, as much as I needed a nap, I rarely napped when he napped because I knew I needed to eat for milk supply and I couldn’t relax if I was surrounded by piles of laundry or dirty dishes even though people told me to just let it go. I could sum up my postpartum experience by saying that I had some postpartum anxiety that prevented me from embracing the messy, spontaneous side of motherhood right away. As I got more comfortable meeting my son’s needs and my needs, I was able to chill out and enjoy holding him while he napped or leave some chores for another day.” When asked what the postpartum period was like for her emotionally, Leah answered “I cried a lot! I smelled a swaddle blanket in the hospital and it smelled like my son, so I packed it in the bag instead of letting the hospital launder it because that thought made me cry. I ended up with too many hospital swaddle blankets at home! (Oops! Sorry hospital!). So very teary-eyed about happy things, sad things, etc. Also very anxious. Anxious about his safety, mine, and my partners. I would have some intrusive thoughts of horrible things happening that were totally ridiculous but really scared me. When the weather started getting nicer it was so good for my mental health to get outside!”
What was most helpful for her as a new mom was:
-Someone coming to hold the baby so she could nap, shower, and eat
-Having someone meal prep, especially breakfast because it was often the hardest meal of the day to get in
-Accepting help when other people offered
-Going to therapy, especially now that there are virtual options
-Making some plans but allowing for spontaneity. She found herself so attached to routine that it was hard to leave the house and risk messing it up
-Seeing other new moms, because it helped her to feel validated in her emotions and how the baby was doing
The things she didn’t find helpful were:
-Telling her the baby looked hungry or tired, in a way that felt like they thought they knew better
-Not handing him back when he started to fuss
-Undermining parenting decisions such as saying the baby didn’t need a pacifier and taking it out of his mouth
-Not respecting preferences like safe sleep practices even after gentle reminders
“Postpartum was just harder than I thought it would be as a first-time mom. I’m thankful for friends who had babies around the same time as me to relate to!”
Krystl is a mom of two and about to have her third baby. She had her second during covid and her postpartum experience was much, much different because of it. “I would say my first time around was ‘normal’. I thought I would have more help than I did but got by. The second baby was born during covid. Almost no help, no relief, couldn’t go anywhere and she was a terrible sleeper. Cried constantly. I didn’t know it was possible to be so sleep-deprived and the impact that alone can have on your mental health. Plus, no one talks about how you can just feel like an absolute failure when you can get your baby to stop crying. I let society tell me that I was fine and that I should be able to do this, so I never asked for help. I almost ended up in Generose because of it.” In her experience, “I’m naturally a words of affirmation person, so more encouragement would’ve been awesome. At the same time, once it got bad enough the worst thing to hear was ‘Don't worry mama, you got this. I was like ‘NO! You’re not listening to me. I’m trying to tell you I don’t get this and I’m trying to ask for help!” This time around she says “I’m definitely more aware of the warning signs so asking for help sooner. Plus I’ll have more options for help with covid not being as much of a thing! It really does take a village and I plan on embracing that this time.”
Ashley H.’s Story
“They tell you you’ll be emotional and your boobs will hurt and you’ll be exhausted, but there’s no way to prepare for that. I was really young and I thought if I didn’t look it up I would be fine and ignorance would be bliss. That was a bad call on my part. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew I was prone to anxiety and depression, but I didn’t prepare myself or ask about antidepressants beforehand. I should’ve prepped for that, honestly. I was sure I could handle it, I’ve always been strong and able to handle a lot. But then the baby came and she didn’t sleep hardly at all until she was 8 months old. I hadn’t gotten more than a few hours of consecutive sleep in months. At one point I was at my parent's house and I was more exhausted than I thought was possible I couldn’t get her to stop crying, so I was just sitting and staring blankly at her while she screamed because I was too tired to respond. My parents took her and let me sleep and I woke up a different person. I hadn’t taken care of myself at all and it took a big toll. Emotionally, postpartum was an absolute rollercoaster, as cliche as that sounds. I loved my daughter so much and I was obsessed with her and everything she did, but the anxiety and depression is hard to even explain. It's so intense. When she finally did sleep I was so anxious about SIDS I would just sit and watch her. Simultaneously, as a new mom, you have to ignore your feelings to an extent. You can’t have a breakdown. You have to be there for the baby. For the first time in your life, you’re balancing so much and you can’t cut corners. I was 21- I went from a college kid who could do what she wanted to a mom. I grew up in an instant. I told myself ‘You cannot be debilitated. You can’t drop everything for your own needs. I grew emotionally, I don’t know how I made it through other than that I didn’t have a choice- I had to make it through for her. As a mom, there’s some kind of instinct that kicks in, and I learned I had to hold it together. My emotions were completely out of control, they were all-consuming, I was so anxious and depressed, and yet I somehow managed to take care of her. New moms have an insane amount of strength and as hard as it was I have a lot of pride over how much I made it through. I think that as a mom, your baby is so amazing it makes it all worth it. It puts everything in perspective. You’d fight through anything for them. I realized I had matured, the things that used to matter didn’t anymore. I didn’t relate to my friends’ drama anymore. It’s so hard to explain the paradox of ‘this is the best time of my life and also the worst’. I will say, I also learned the hard way that while I needed to take care of her first, I had to take care of myself to be able to do that. I needed to eat and sleep. On the topic of what I found helpful and what I didn't- I’ve got a few things. As a young mom, all my friends paraded through to take pictures with my baby for Instagram and no one asked how I was. No one checked in on me. No one helped. They just took pictures and moved on because they were clueless. Plus, I was a single parent. I didn’t stay with her dad, even though he was going to be involved. His parents were very insensitive. As an example, they played a baby shower game that involved everyone guessing the circumference of my waist and measuring me in front of everyone when I was horribly self-conscious about my size while pregnant. There were a lot of points of conflict, like when her dad tried to change her last name after she was born even though we had decided on it ahead of time. He came down to stay with us for a week to help, but when I asked him to help change a diaper before I fed her he would throw a fit about how hard it was. On the flip side, there were a lot of people who were so supportive and helpful. We had friends who left fruit and bagels at the house when we came home. An ex’s mom who was also a young single mother told me she remembered that feeling and was always a good listener. Some of my old babysitters who had kids invited me for playdates and embraced me with open arms. It was life-changing. They shared mommy blogs and it was nice building a network of people who also understood. My humor shifted from drunken night shenanigans to diaper blowouts and they got that. I felt stuck between my friends who I didn’t belong with anymore and the moms I also didn’t fit in with because I was so young, but help came from unexpected places, and being welcomed was amazing. My best advice for other new moms is that self-care is not overrated. Take the nap, give yourself a break, or you’ll hit a wall. If someone offers to help, take them up on it. Everyone loves to be around a new baby and you can’t do it alone. Let someone come clean the bottles and take the trash out. Especially other moms, they know how it feels and they want to relieve some of that burden. Also- don’t take everything so seriously. You will get so much conflicting advice and half of it will say you’re a bad mom if you’re not doing XYZ. But you’re not. Everyone stresses about getting it right and giving their kids the best, but caring is what makes you a good mom. Those little things don’t matter. There are so many ways to be polarized in motherhood but when these kids grow up no one knows if they wore cloth diapers and breastfed until age five. No one looks at the valedictorian of high school graduation and says ‘she definitely wore all organic clothes and did baby-led weaning and attended Montessori preschool’. Everyone is different. Research by all means, but know that there’s no such thing as doing it 100% right. There’s no checklist of mom-perfection. Roll with the punches and do what your family needs, whether it's making your own baby food or buying Gerber, co-sleeping, or having their own room from birth. It’s all okay. As stressful as it was, I enjoyed the learning process of being a mom. I thought I would be clueless but these instincts kicked in and I rose to it. Part of the fun of it is realizing how much you’re capable of. It’s empowering. Finding out how much your body can do, even when you’re scared and clueless, and seeing those mama bear instincts in action- it’s like a high. People told me a lot before she was born, and I don’t think there’s anything I wish someone would’ve told me other than that when she came I would know what to do. You know your baby better than you know yourself, and you don’t even understand that feeling until it happens. We are so much more prepared than we realize we are and so much more capable. One thing I want to add, honestly it’s so good to find a space where you’re understood. There’s not one mom in this world who is actually completely alone. There is a community waiting out there to embrace you. Groups online, in person, all that. It really does take a village and realizing I wasn’t alone really helped the depression. That’s important for everyone.”
“When I was pregnant with my first, Calvin, I didn’t expect the extreme hormones I experienced. I thought I would feel like myself again after giving birth, and it was really hard to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t feel like myself. I also wasn’t expecting how anxious I was. I had a C-section, so my care was more comprehensive after because I was healing from surgery and had weight restrictions. With my second, Carter, I had a VBAC. I was seen by a doctor instead of a midwife like with my first. I had wanted to do a water birth both times and was never able to first because of the C-section and then because of COVID, so there was a little bit of grief involved with letting go of the plan I had in mind. When I had my first and was in the OR I was able to hold him just for a moment, but then I had to be stitched up and he went with the nursing team and his dad. Between that and the depression that had already set in, it was harder to bond with my baby than I was expecting. With my second I was able to actually experience his arrival. After the birth of my second son, I felt amazing. I went through four days of labor and gave birth to this beautiful person. It helped my self-confidence. Every time I looked at him I thought “I did that. He’s here because of me”. I finally got to experience that new motherly love, and having Carter helped ease some of the grief I had over not remembering much of Calvin’s first year from PPD. I finally felt that heart-about-to-burst feeling. It solidified the belief that I was made to care for them. I felt I was able to make up for the mistakes I had made the first time, and it alleviated some of the feelings of failure. I had more control over how my second was born, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. It felt more natural, and the connection with him was immediate. The euphoria everyone talks about the first time you see your baby happened right away, but with my first, it took about a day. I harbored a lot of guilt over that. The first time my postpartum depression was so intense I can barely remember his first year of life. No one told me about PPD, so I didn’t know what was happening or what to look for. I was stuck floundering in a dark space where I didn’t know what to do, or who to ask for help, and I constantly felt like a failure as a mother. When I finally was diagnosed with PPD I was able to get help, and then when I became pregnant with my second I knew I was high risk so I was working with a psychiatrist that specialized in pre and postnatal depression. As a result, my PPD was much less intense and didn’t last as long. That was a huge help, but at that point, I also had another undiagnosed mental illness that interfered with that care because I didn’t know I had it. I have bipolar depression, and if I hadn’t had my children I wouldn’t have a reason to fight it. I also may not have ever found out what was going on with me. I loved being pregnant, it was euphoric, but after they were born it felt like I had jumped into the deep end and didn’t know how to swim. I had people I could’ve asked for help, but I never did. No one volunteered and no one noticed anything was wrong, so I was alone. I remember feeling like I wanted to disappear, but I couldn’t. I felt alone even when I was surrounded by people. It didn’t get better for about 2 years the first time. I was in survival mode- I had to keep myself and my baby alive, and that’s how I got through. All my relationships, personal and professional, fell to the wayside. I was only able to expend energy on taking care of myself and Calvin. Part of my struggle involved breastfeeding- I wanted to, but it didn’t work. I was spending more time pumping than holding my baby and that fed into the depression. After we switched to formula I felt a sense of relief because that weight was lifted from me, and my husband could help with feedings, and I could hold him more. But I also felt robbed- I was a first-time mom and I didn’t know about tongue or lip ties, which is what kept him from latching. By the time we found it and got it fixed it was too late. I felt I had missed out on an experience I wanted. I tried with my second and he also didn’t latch, but the agony I had experienced the first time with trying and failing was too much, so we went to formula once my colostrum was expressed. Motherhood made me feel the most powerful and the weakest I had ever been, simultaneously. I felt like in people’s attempts to not step on my toes, they didn’t say anything when they saw me struggling. I couldn’t see how bad it was, and it would’ve helped to have had someone point it out. Even when things were hard though, snuggling with my baby was incredible. I was awestruck by this amazing thing I had created. I don’t actually think I would’ve done anything differently though. They’re my experiences, and both my postpartum periods were wildly different. Make sure to listen to your gut, if you have a feeling that something is wrong you should follow that. It is not stupid, embarrassing, or a waste of anyone’s time to ask for help. If you already have depression or anxiety your chances of experiencing PPD are higher, so let your support people know what to look out for so it can be caught sooner. Take time to focus on yourself too. Be open and honest with your care team, and if they’re not meeting your needs you can always shop around for doctors. Don’t be afraid to interview them. Also know, that you might not get your ideal birth, but it will be amazing either way. If you’re struggling, it gets better. I’m enjoying my kids now, I’m enjoying my life. When things are hard, all I have to do is look at them.”
“I think being a first-time parent you just don’t even know what to expect. I think the exhaustion is so much more real than you realize, and how you’ll just be living day by day and hour by hour. You’re constantly learning new things about the baby and yourself. The best part was finally having the baby out and with me. Being able to see them. I just stared at him the first few weeks like, “you came out of me. How did that happen?”. It’s amazing. You dream of having a child growing up and finally they’re there, it’s an amazing thing. One thing that was challenging for me was that I went from working full time to just being at home with a new baby. It’s a total shift of gears and mentality. It slows down and everything is about the baby. There’s no time for yourself. Coming home from the hospital my husband tested positive for Covid so we couldn’t have any visitors for a few weeks. It was very isolating. We didn’t know what to do- did we have to keep him away from the baby? But that was too hard because I was doing everything on my own. Eventually, I got it so it was useless anyway. The baby never did end up getting it though. We had so many people help though. Our church did a meal train for us, so we didn’t have to worry about meals for a while. People would just drop them off and it was one less thing to worry about. Our parents were so helpful, they came for a few days and helped change diapers and watch the baby so I could rest. We did have some visitors who stayed a little longer than they maybe should have, just because it makes feeding harder and it feels like you have to host, but even that wasn’t so bad. All the help we got made me so much more aware of how big of a deal it is. It makes me more aware of other people in that situation, and more able to help them. Now I want to do things for new moms, encourage them, not judge them. It gives you a new perspective. I remember absolutely dreading the nights because I love my sleep and for my sleep to be uninterrupted. Going to bed every night knowing I was going to have to wake up three or four times to feed the baby was hard. The snuggles though, they were so special. Something someone told me just before I had the baby was ‘give yourself a lot of grace, you’re going to mess up and you’re going to not know what you’re doing, so now that’s the advice I give. There will be tough moments but you’ll keep going and it will get better. I think as women sometimes we are wired to forget the negative stuff, but generally, I see my whole postpartum experience in a positive light. Everyone’s experience is so different, even from one baby to the next. Just have an open mind and don’t expect someone else’s experience to be yours. Tons of advice, while you’re trying to figure the baby out, is really frustrating. The advice can be great but follow your motherly instinct. Google is your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time-use with caution. I was googling everything to the extent that it was driving me nuts. It’s good for a resource, but there are so many differing opinions and you just have to trust your gut.”
Ashley C.’s Story
“With postpartum, I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought my life would be a lot the same, just now I would have a baby. I remember how many plans I had for after my daughter was born. We had planned to drive her to Denver to meet some close friends when she was two months old. I then had a plan to take her to Atlanta for a week-long work trip when she was 3 months old. Finally, I was supposed to be at a wedding out of the country when she was 6 months old. I planned to leave her with family and go for a 4-night/5 day trip. HAHAHA! So many plans!! In the end, my husband and I drove to Denver and it was such an endeavor that I canceled the next two trips. It completely changes everything!! Well, it did for me. And again, everyone is different. I was also surprised at how isolating it was. Just before having my first child, my husband and I were having the time of our life- travel nursing, traveling, making friends, and doing anything and everything we could. And then I had the baby and it all stopped. And I found myself on the couch with a crying colicky baby and my life was forever changed!! After having 3 babies, I would say going from no babies to one baby was definitely the hardest for me! The transition from 1-2 and 2-3 was easier, you’re already in the swing of motherhood! I was also not prepared for how much it would change the dynamic between my husband and me. That was really hard. He was my best friend before we had kids, we did everything together! And that relationship has been second to the children for the last 4 years while we have had 3 kids and that is tough. But knowing this is a season in life and we won’t always have a newborn- we will be able to date and vacation together again, someday.
Emotionally, I was not anticipating how difficult the early stages of motherhood would be. First of all, you have these pregnancy hormones you cannot control! I was laughing one minute and crying the next! You are sleep deprived which causes a whole layer of emotional instability you can’t prepare yourself for. There’s a reason they use sleep deprivation as a war tactic! For my first child, I was also very concerned about ‘doing everything right. So much so, that I think I could have enjoyed it more than I did. I was so worried I was going to do something wrong that I couldn’t see WHATEVER I was doing for/ with my baby was right! The thing she needed most was me! The most helpful thing people did for me by far was bringing meals and snacks. In those early days, you can hardly find time to brush your teeth, let alone cook a healthy meal. I tried to meal prep freezer meals before each child but there was such a sense of relief when someone came to meet the baby with a pan of lasagna. I also had another friend bring me a gift basket with middle-of-the-night snacks- almonds, cookies, decaf tea, and gossip magazines! The least helpful thing was unsolicited advice. When people in my life have babies, I try SO SO hard not to relate their experiences to my own, UNLESS they ask me for my opinion, experience, etc. People saying ‘when I had my baby…’ felt almost like a measuring stick. Almost like, ‘it was waaaay easier for me’ or ‘my baby did/didn’t do that, or ‘my baby was sleeping 5 hours when I brought them home from the hospital’. Ultimately, every baby is different. If someone doesn’t ask me, I try not to share my experience, especially the bad ones! We all just need to support each other. It’s okay to admit that it’s hard. And it’s okay to cry! Just because you are going through emotions doesn’t mean you are any less of a mom! Postpartum depression is real and nothing to be ashamed of! Ask for help, and take help when it’s offered. And that silly saying ‘sleep when they sleep’? Obviously, you can’t do that all the time, but try to rest when you can! Especially in the early days. And while you’ll start to feel like you’ll never know life again, you will! It gets easier. There are so many mom blogs and mom groups that you can join for support, even if you don’t chime in. It’s helpful to listen to other people talk about their experiences.
The perspective of what life will look like after having a baby is something you can’t ‘know’, but I was almost mad at the mothers in my life who made it sound like rainbows and butterflies. Everyone talks about the newborn SNUGGLES but no one talks about the newborn STRUGGLES. Having a baby is hard! Labor is hard and the newborn stage is hard! This is not to say there aren’t wonderful parts of the beginning. And the newborn stage. But dang, it is hard! Ultimately every baby and every postpartum experience is different.”
Leah A.’s Story
“Postpartum was different than I expected in that it was much more isolating than I imagined. I’m a stay-at-home mom so I literally only talked to a baby all day. Because I had postpartum anxiety, being alone all day with my son made my anxiousness much worse. Emotionally, it was amazing and scary all at the same time. I fell absolutely in love with my baby which made me feel super protective and overly cautious. Also, I had to have an emergency C-section I wasn’t prepared for. Ultimately it ended up working out but at the time I felt like I was a failure. The hardest part was adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom. Not talking with other adults and not interacting with other people on a daily basis is hard for me. The best part was the true genuine love that I realized when I had our son. It was a love I had never felt before. In terms of help, I had neighbors that checked in on me. I live hours away from family, so that meant the world to me. I also got really good advice from friends who were moms. The least helpful part was being told what should be done and that it was the only way. Unsolicited advice that made me question how I was doing things was tough. I wish I had realized how your relationship with your spouse changes entirely after a baby. Intimacy is so crucial and that definitely fell through the cracks when I was exhausted all the time. The best advice I have for new moms is to trust your intuition. What’s best for your baby is having a healthy mommy, and not taking care of yourself means you can’t take care of others. Also, make an effort to have some time with your spouse. It’s hard but very important.”
Each of these stories is unique, and yet through each one, there are common themes. Feelings of being unprepared, exhausted, and anxious, but also pure bliss, love, and hope. It’s fair to say a hallmark of the beginning of motherhood is that it is simultaneously the hardest and most wonderful time of your life. It also seems that every new mom agrees, that community and support is paramount to getting through. Sharing our stories is validating, and freeing. It helps new moms to feel less alone, and it helps the people in our lives to know what we truly need. We hope you gained something from these stories- perspective, knowledge, hope, and comfort. We hope you know you are never alone and more capable than you realize. Here’s to the village- may we have one, may we be a part of someone else’s, and may we lean on it when we need to.