As Clara draws into her 6th week of life, I wanted to touch on the first month postpartum from my perspective. I wrote her one-month update, and focused on this amazing being and all of her amazingness throughout the last few weeks, but didn’t find room to write about the other side of things. The 4th trimester for me.
The 4th trimester. I’ve only just heard this term in the last week or so, but find that it’s this unspoken part of motherhood. Like when I had my son almost 12 years ago, no one told me about colostrum so I thought I was going to starve my baby for the first few days until my milk comes in. Anyway, twice in the last week, a fellow mama has commented on one of my IG posts saying something to the tune of “there’s a reason it’s called the fourth trimester” or “you basically have another trimester with the baby out.” Hormones, weight issues, body issues… Your baby is born and you’re no longer “carrying” her, but you also don’t really get to put her down. You’re tethered to her and life is taking its sweet time finding a new “normal.”
For me, this 4th trimester has been interesting. I wouldn’t call it easy, I definitely wouldn’t call it hard. I’ve had a few hormonal swings, plenty of hot flashes and night sweats. A clogged milk duct in one boob, mastitis in the other. Extreme weight loss followed by going on 5 weeks of no weight loss. Massive overproduction of breastmilk, pumping an additional 40-50 ounces a day, to now trying not to panic with only an extra 4-6 ounces being produced (I’m sure I’m still producing enough for her, as she’s still gaining weight, and having plenty of diaper changes throughout the day). Also balancing the day to day of social media, which I’ve been vulnerable to the comparison trap in the past, now it’s a completely new story with mothers, runners, and everything in between reminding you what you’re not. Every step back toward normalcy gains you a step or two back to a new reality. I basically need a post-it note on every wall, mirror, and door in my house reminding me that my job right now is to take care of myself and take care of my baby. Anything extra is a bonus and needs no attention.
A few days after Clara was born and we were settling in at home, my mother- and father-in-law came down to visit and bring dinner. My milk had come in the day/night before and I really didn’t have a great night sleep. Who sleeps those first few nights anyway? Clara certainly did; however, I heard every movement she made or didn’t make… every breath she took, or if she went too long without taking a breath. I heard every squeak, and my ears rang with silence when she was ever so peaceful. Is that sound normal? Why is she so quiet? Does her breathing sound odd? Maybe she’s allergic to the dogs… Is she even breathing? She’s sleeping too long. She’s gone 3. 4. now 5 hours without feeding… I tried to wake her, she just sleeps right through diaper changes! You get it. Add to that the rush of hormones as breastmilk starts to flood in. And I do mean FLOOD in. It felt like someone used my breasts as punching bags! They felt so tender and bruised, and every time she latched my nipples ached and my contractions took my breath away.
Well, this visit wasn’t my finest moment. I took every innocent comment so personally… I felt guilty for not having the laundry done. I felt shame for the amount of dog hair piled up, the few dishes in the sink. My incredible MIL mentioned how great I was looking and I took it as an insult. Guys, she’s a blessed human being who has been through the birth of three boys! She’s allowed me to be honest, humble, blunt, and unapologetically myself (even though I still apologize for it) throughout our entire relationship… but my hormones were on FIRE and I was on a warpath with anyone in front of me (trust me, my husband was not excluded). When they made the decision to leave a little early and head back to Pennsylvania without eating the dinner they had so graciously brought down for us, my response was exactly: “it’s because I’m being an asshole isn’t it!” as I immediately burst into tears. Rage turned to shame… they’re just trying to help and I’m filled with anxiety, anger, shame, guilt and everything in between. NOT my finest moment. Of course, they handled it with such grace. I felt like I owed the largest apology in history. But this was me. Raw, emotional, ugly-cry-face me at that moment. I’m embarrassed, but I’m sharing because I know I’m not the only one. I’m sharing because ugly is part of this beautiful process. My outburst doesn’t mean I don’t love, appreciate, and cherish my relationship with them, their support of our family. I’m moreso grateful – eternally grateful – that I can be myself, even my ugly self, and they won’t hold it against me. It allows me to heal better and not dwell on my faults. I’m not proud of this moment, but I’m proud of our relationship and our ability to move forward. I’m grateful for the kind words and empathy they showed me, knowing that will pass and completely understanding where this emotion was coming from. Pema Chodron states: Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.
I mentioned how great my recovery was going… Shockingly great. My body felt incredible as soon as I gave birth – like immediately following her entry to Earth. This is a blessing and a curse. As “normal” as I felt again, I needed (still need) to constantly remind myself that even if I don’t feel like I’m recovering, I am recovering. Even now…
I gained 43 pounds during my pregnancy. I lost about 25 pounds within the first week or so, and haven’t budged since. Not even an ounce. Now, I’ve been involved in some aspect of health and wellness for almost 15 years and can tell people about the emotional and physical struggles of a weight loss journey until I’m blue in the face –especially women. But when it comes to having patience and grace for myself? Almost non-existent. Weight loss makes no sense. There’s no formula that works for everyone, and for women especially, there’s no rhyme or reason and it is certainly not a linear process. Hormones, emotion, stress, food, hydration, the weather, your period, Mercury in retrograde… Get it? So why haven’t I lost any weight in almost 5-weeks? Who TF knows. Am I stressing about it? No… Is it annoying? Hell to the yes! What’s the solution? There isn’t one.
Weight loss is a journey, there’s never a destination. Hell, I don’t even care about my weight most of the time, which is why I usually work toward performance related goals. I know for a fact that the work doesn’t stop when you hit a certain weight. I’ve worked really hard for over 10-years to maintain my weight after having Landon. I do remember my recovery was harder with Landon – even walking was painful; however, I feel like I fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes sooner than this. Regardless, I’m not complaining about this part, I’m just mentioning it because I don’t think it’s wrong to be frustrated at a stalemate. I don’t think it’s wrong to be frustrated in general. I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about that frustration. Can I be frustrated and still have grace with myself? Yep! So can you… Can I be annoyed at the number on the scale, while still grateful that my body is letting me move almost every day? Sure can! Can I wallow in the fact that I can’t get my jeans up over my thighs while not giving a shit about my muffin top in my swimsuit when I take my son to play at the pool in a bikini because I’m a 34-year-old mom of two that doesn’t own a one-piece? Fuck yes.
I have no idea how long it will take me to lose the baby weight. I might never hit those pre-pregnancy digits! But so far, I’m almost 6-weeks postpartum and still am carrying around an extra 18 pounds. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A friend recently said she saw the same weight for 4-months after having her second child, and 6-months to see numbers close to her pre-pregnancy weight… The same woman that told me there’s basically another trimester with the baby out. Ladies – let’s not forget to share this part of the journey! This is part of the transformation we need to be open and honest with! I’m not alone… She’s not alone… You’re not alone. It’s true that it took us 9-months to make this human who changed our bodies… It’s okay to take 3-weeks or 3-years to figure out how to put our bodies back to some form of normal. It’s also okay to not LOVE the journey. And hell, it might just have to be a new normal! I never got down to my pre-pregnancy weight after having my son in 2007. NEVER! Technically I’ve been carrying around an extra 13 pounds for 12 years. What did change are my health habits (I’m far more healthy after having him than I was before I got pregnant with him), my body composition (hellllooooooo muscle!!!), and my goals. I started focusing on performance goals over some arbitrary weight-loss goal.
This week is week one of my half-marathon training plan with a target race of Grandma’s Marathon in mid-June. My “performance” goal is actually broken up into three goals: (1) to train and finish without injury regardless of finishing time, (2) to squeak out a PR, (3) to run a 1:50 half. I’ll be completely happy and satisfied with any of these outcomes. I also am going into training very cautiously and have 6 weeks of easing into running (in addition to the “easing in” I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks since being cleared to run) before anything even looks like a serious training plan. I’m also mixing in strength training and plenty of yoga, with a basis of knowing when to listen to my body and take rest or switch workouts as needed.
As for the social media comparison trap, it’s a bittersweet resource. It’s great to have a community at your fingertips, but like I said at the beginning of this post: it’s too easy to get stuck in the rut of seeing what you’re not. Your journey is completely your own. Fuck everyone else’s. But sometimes that’s easier said than done and I’m never opposed to deactivating and deleting apps when necessary. Sometimes the best thing you can do is remove the trigger. For me, deleting apps isn’t enough. I need to straight up deactivate Facebook and shut that shit off. There’s nothing wrong with doing that for as long as you need to. Find other ways to connect to people. Lean into the ones that you know you can vent unapologetically to. Find those few friends and resources that won’t judge you for being honest and just saying some shit to get it off your chest. I often don’t need someone to “solve” things for me when I get like this, I just need that ear to let me say whatever TF I want and for them to be like “yep, I get it… that sucks dude.”
I know my journey is my own, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the shit I see in the perfect bubble world that is social media. So get rid of it when it gets to you! I also recently downloaded an app that tracks the amount of time I spend on my phone and how many times I pick it up. This is really helpful because I was spending WAY too much time on it (uh, hello… what else am I supposed to do when she’s nursing for 20-30 minutes at a time every couple of hours?) and really keeps that awareness in the front of my brain. I’m competitive with myself so I always want to meet or beat the goals that I set for myself in the app! (The app is called Moments, and I’m not affiliated with it at all, just passing it along if this is an area of your life you struggle with. Phone addiction struggle is real, yo.)
At the end of the day, I’m mostly doing my own thing and making progress as this journey continues. The most important part is that Clara is healthy, happy and probably the most incredible baby in the world, and I’m getting by just fine. If you’re struggling with the 4th trimester, just realize it’s a thing and you’re not alone. Try to honor yourself where you are and understand that there’s nothing wrong with admitting parts of this suck. You don’t have to enjoy it, but the struggle is always worth it. Find those resources, whether they’re people or apps or blogs and let them into your life where and when you need to.