A Summary of the Fourth Trimester
To be honest, I’m not sure where the last 12 weeks have gone. The first almost-three-months of Eira’s life have passed by as a whirlwind of sleep-interrupted nights, diaper changes, marathon feedings, eye doctor appointments, and accidental ER visits that the massive changes occurring in my body and mind have almost been an afterthought. And yet, my metamorphosis into motherhood will probably be one of the most memorable stages of my life.
So before I forget to write this, here’s a somewhat scatterbrained summary of the postpartum period:
Postpartum during the pandemic
My postpartum experience during the pandemic has been a strange time when immediate physical support often has not been present. But being sheltered away in our nest filled so tightly with love almost makes up for the loss. Daniel decided to treat me to a complete reorganization of our apartment when I was recovering from birth in the hospital, so I came home to a flipped home. Still on an endorphins-high, I happily reorganized all my possessions.
They say you’re not supposed to do any housework in the weeks following childbirth, but I felt so powerful. Granted, it did feel like my vagina was going to turn itself inside out if I tried waddling down the street, so I avoided doing so.
Pandemic or not, vacuuming the apartment, throwing together a nursery, reorganizing all my possessions, making pancakes, and learning to dance ballet were among the many rookie mistakes that I made during the first week postpartum that likely stalled my healing. I can make no excuses other than to say it’s always been very challenging for me to sit still.
In addition to my lifelong running battle with rest, I found myself scrambling for postpartum resources. I had been so diligent about my learning during pregnancy, but my education stopped at birth. Next time, I’ll know better.
A woman was born
As much as I was in awe of my baby, I was also in shock about my body when I returned home from the hospital after Eira’s birth. I expected to return to some version of my pre-pregnancy body after birth, but this was something very different.
I was strangely almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight only days after giving birth. And yet, a layer of softness had replaced all muscle tone, and engorged C-cups had taken the space of my barely-there breasts. My stick-figure athleticism seemed like a distant memory. Suddenly, I was a woman. And as a woman, I was bleeding. Lochia was heavy, but I thought it would surely end quickly. After all, pregnancy had been easy, and birth had left me without a tear.
Maybe it’s another gap in my postpartum and parenting education, but I still don’t understand how any baby can have a 7 pm bedtime. Our Eira has been a night owl since she was in the womb. I am lucky if I can get her to sleep by 11 pm, and this has caused me to readjust my love of rising before the world. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I’ve rarely woken before 9 am since having a baby. Is this a permanent change?
Sleep (or lack thereof) was undoubtedly the most challenging part of the early postpartum period. I learned quickly not to trust the books that said babies would wake every 3-4 hours. Mine was hungry hourly in the first few weeks. Because of this, it took me until 2 months to feel like I was remotely rested.
Finally, at 12 weeks postpartum, I’ve just started sleeping 8 hours over a 10-ish hour span in the night. Eira can now sleep for 4 hours at a time during the night (when she wants to), which is still a shorter duration than most babies her age, but she is also still a very hungry baby.
Food of love
Eira was born small, but she was the perfect size for my body. At two-days-old, she had lost a percentage of her birth weight that was within the normal range. But at 5 pounds, she was teeny enough for the pediatrician to bring up the possibility of formula feeding.
By 1 week old, however, she had already gained back her birth weight. “You must have super breastmilk!” the pediatrician said who saw us this time. More like our snowpea had the appetite of a lioness.
I am thankful that Eira and I picked up breastfeeding so quickly. From the very beginning, she has wanted to eat non-stop around the clock, causing her to steadily climb up the growth charts.
And although breastfeeding has gone well, it is sometimes strangely the root of tension in my relationship with Daniel. If he could be a seahorse dad, I would let him in an instant. But the sad fact is that only I can have this connection with our baby – a connection that often replaces late-night cuddles that were nightly occurrences in the end of pregnancy. Now, there is a literally a baby between us. Although the fourth trimester has ended, changing these dynamics will have to be a priority in the… fifth trimester? The post-postpartum period?
My 6-week postpartum visit was replaced by a telehealth appointment, so I was never examined for lingering health issues. The “all clear” to exercise holds less weight when it’s granted by a stranger over the phone, so I thought I should be cautious. My version of “cautious” was attempting to get back into running, sex, and handstands all at the same time. This was another rookie mistake.
Lochia started again and it seemed to never end. I cycled between complete rest until the bleeding tapered off to pretending I was superwoman until the bleeding resumed again – a pattern I would not necessarily recommend. This caused bleeding to linger on until 9 weeks(!!), which is 3 weeks later than the textbook definition of recovery.
But then again, in real life, neither motherhood nor postpartum changes fit neatly into strict textbook guidelines.
My one true saving grace was that I stumbled upon a blog post on prolapse before my first run. I was shocked to find out that running can literally cause your uterus to fall out in the postpartum period if you don’t build up from ground zero. Somewhere between 1 in 3-5 women have some degree of prolapse that occurs after giving birth. Did I? I couldn’t be sure.
So I started running for no more than 1 minute at a time at 12-minute/mile pace. I promised myself that eventually, I would build back up to an ultra-marathon. While I'm not quite there yet, I have gradually built up to 4 miles at 8:30/mile, breaking only for traffic lights. And after the months of bleeding that seemed to last an eternity, I'm very proud of this.
Far weightier than the physical changes of the postpartum period is the identity shift that took root. Not only was a woman born, but a mother was also born from bringing Eira into the world. Steadily losing my sources of income during the pandemic left me terrified as I began my maternity leave. What I was scared of was not being broke but being financially dependent. Translated: I did not want to become a 50s housewife.
I began a process of self-discovery in my last month of pregnancy as I asked myself, “How can I model power in a non-patriarchal way as a woman?”
I looked to the goddesses, reread Simone de Beauvoir, sang Ella Fitzgerald, taught myself to belly dance, listened to an audiobook on becoming a witch, and then finally reached a breaking point. “I think I will just become a housewife after all. I can just work my way toward YouTube stardom in my spare time,” I told Daniel.
“Didn’t you want to give a PhD a second try?” he kindly replied, in no way doubting the likelihood of my YouTube stardom, I presume.
“That’s it!” I said, suddenly snapping back to reality. And instantly, I redirected my attention to the career path in which I could make the most impact in this world and in my daughter's life: global health.
To be continued.