I walked into my favorite pedicure place in my small town, on Vancouver Island, 8 days after giving birth for the 3rd time. The 20 year 'young' Vietnamese woman asked, "Did you have the baby?" as I comfortably & shamelessly sported my 'after birth belly' in a flowing, empire waisted dress. I wasn't mad. I laughed - feeling fairly certain she had no idea what a postpartum body looked like - so the question wasn't insensitive or with malintent. It was about 30 minutes into my pedicure until she mentions that she's never really seen a woman so soon after giving birth. Women in her culture typically don't leave the house for 3 months after giving birth - sometimes they don't leave their bedroom for about the first month...
So of course she doesn't really know that a woman can easily still look pregnant for 2 weeks after giving birth...or more.
I, on the other hand, am the crazy person who was in Costco with a newborn in the first week when I had my daughter. I was back at work within 72 hours after my first surrogate baby, training clients in the gym. Then I was in a bathing suit at the beach within the first week after my second surrogate baby.
Did I want to be doing all of these things right after giving birth? A little bit of yes & a little bit of no. Some moments I would fee fine. Others I was irritable as hell. Some normal life stuff I craved & was happy to do. Some other things had me in hysterical tears if someone even mentioned it.
Because there are all these insane, random things that can pile up & feel like a tidal wave. Each symptom can be just this small pebble in our shoe. But over time, new pebbles show up. Or get bigger. Or we all of a sudden have a gravel yard in our shoe and we have a new 4 month old, maybe some other kids already, possibly a dog - God forbid we have a partner that "doesn't understand what your problem is."
We can lose our hair - big giant clumps of it - for months. We can be shocked we have any left for how much we're losing.
Our first period after birth can be so heavy (and have all of the worst symptoms of bloating, mood swings & sugar/salt cravings) that we think we're going to die. This can happen for the next 3-4 cycles or the next 12.
We can get acne on our face, back, butt cheeks, neck & chest. They can feel like hives. Or look like a rash. Or be eczema. It can show up 5 weeks after the birth - or 5 months. Which causes you to wonder if its even related to the postpartum process.
We can get hot flashes & night sweats - for more or less than 5 months. Sometimes it will soak all of your sheets. Sometimes it will just be your shins. Sometimes it will just be around your pelvis & cause you to think you wet the bed. Some times you don't even get hot - you just wake up drenched. If you're past your mid 30s & you're not sure why you have them - someone might suggest you're in perimenopause. That's a whole effed up rabbit hole in itself.
You could have incontinence, lower back pain, splitting of your abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) that doesn't correct itself or a whole pelvic floor dysfunction that you don't understand. You can break your pelvis during birth & have a doctor brush off your concerns for a month - saying you're 'just sore.'
You could have memory problems, cognitive struggles (trouble thinking clearly,) difficulty solving common issues that cause you to feel stupid in comparison to before, or more anxious or scared or less confident doing normal things.
You could have sleep disruptions, even if you've helped your infant learn to sleep through the night - still waking up in the middle of the night, multiple times. Or just wake up once - then not being able to get back to sleep. Or know that you've slept - but felt half awake most of the night.
These are a bunch of things that can happen in the first month...or surprise you 6 months later. But by 6 months - no one really considers you 'postpartum' anymore unless some compassionate, wise woman reminds you. You get a moment of not feeling like something is 'wrong with you' because you have this weird reminder of: I JUST had a baby!
This is the worst symptom of being post partum.
Having everyone forget 4...maybe 5...or maybe 8 months later - you JUST had a baby.
Symptoms are still appearing. Random changes are still happening. The public health nurse only calls to check on you within the first 12 weeks. You friends & relatives have switched from asking if you need help - to how the baby is. Who now has a personality & a list of needs longer than your arm.
But the list of things that your body is doing that seem...odd? Uncomfortable? Bizarre? Strange? Annoying? F*cking shocking & hard - are still randomly showing up. Things that you can even forget COULD be postpartum symptoms.
Having our estrogen levels continue to drain. Then our oxytocin does weird things while we figure out breast feeding (or don't figure it out.) Then we have to think about going back to work. Or our family pet gets sick. Or a family member passes away. Or things change in our relationship with our spouse. Or we grow and change as a person again. Or one of our kids is having issues at school. Or the washer & dryer break & need replacing. Or we need to move.
It's never JUST being post partum. It's LIFE on top of postpartum. This is a minimum of 12 months for most of us. But socially - we get robbed of the label at around 4 months. Even though we're still having trouble sleeping & thinking & keeping our hair & losing the baby weight or even leaving the house.
So what do we do?
Well - with myself at 5 months postpartum (and not taking care of a baby because I was a surrogate) I have to be my own advocate. Both with myself & to others.
When my night sweats showed up at 4 months I had to remind both myself, and reassure my partner, that this was normal. While my hair is still falling out in chunks, I have to take a breath & remind myself I'm at 5 months. When I can't complete the 400 things I planned for the week - I need to remind myself. When I have trouble reading aloud to my daughter at bed time, I need to remind her why. When I get weird skin rashes & texture & acne for, what seems like, no reason & I go hunting for a culprit like the laundry detergent or my food - I have to remember how short ago I had a baby.
We also need to normalize talking about it. We need to post more, blog more, talk more, share more, support more. We need to advocate for ourselves in the medical system that is still atrociously behind in looking at the data & experiences of women's bodies throughout their life span. We need to broaden our perspective of 'normal' so that we stop being treated for 'other things' unnecessarily.
We also need make our voices stronger - rather than hiding in shame about our bodies & our unique experiences. In the age of information sharing, it is high time we thrash the phrase, "I thought I was the only one."
Because your not. This is what a woman's tribe is for.
The more we talk, the more we share, the more we connect - the better our lives become. It is insane that AI & robots can perform heart surgery with more accuracy than humans & cars can drive themselves. But women still don't have accurate or supportive & holistic help for the thing we do that creates humanity. It's literally the oldest act of our species - giving birth. There are enormous gaps in the knowledge of the female body, especially in around the process of birth & postpartum. The more you share & advocate for your concerns, questions & needs, the more all of us rise.
Be part of the solution by sharing this blog. Be part of the solution by taking a step into vulnerability & sharing YOUR experience. Be part of the solution by supporting other women, listening, asking questions & being a little more kind than necessary. Also take initiative in reading, researching & exploring answers for yourself & promoting the places where you have found answers that hep you. Don't allow the medical system to dismiss your concerns or find phantoms that negate the complexity of your postpartum journey.
If you loved this blog, sign up for my Pretty Aggressive Weekly Newsletter!
to sign up & receive blogs on physical health, mental health, nutrition, great podcasts, book reviews, building resiliency, bio-hacking products & more!
If you would like to start building your Core Resiliency Skills contact Coach Julia today. You will learn how to Thrive beyond your damage, become a Transitional Character, break abuse cycles in your family cycle & build the core resiliency skills most often missed when being raised in a low nurture environment.
Julia is a Holistic Health Consultant, holding a Double Diploma in Community Support & Addictions Work, is a Certified Transformation Specialist, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach & a Lvl 2 Reiki Practitioner. She specializes in Trauma Informed Practice & Resiliency Coaching & Holistic Pregnancy & Postpartum Health Coaching. PrettyAggressiveRecovery@gmail.com