A friend of ours says that when she was about six months along in her pregnancy, it seemed as if every woman in her life who had ever been pregnant from her mother to her friends, cousins, and coworkers began recounting their worst horror stories about pregnancy. However, when her water broke and she went into labor, it began to dawn on her that no amount of shared experience could ever prepare her for what is one of the most intense, intimate rites of passage in a woman's life: the initiation into motherhood. Birthing a baby runs the gamut from the intensity of the physical to the sublime of the spiritual, whether it is your first baby or your fifth.
Then there is another story that is so common, yet hardly ever talked about. That's the story of what it is like after you have had a baby the story of the largely unspoken need for pregnancy recovery. Once that baby is born, all eyes are upon your little creation.
You go to the doctor and are asked, "How are you feeling?" You start to answer, "Okay...," and before you can say another word, the attention turns to the baby. "How is your baby eating? How is your baby sleeping? How much weight has she gained?" and so forth. A well-meaning grandmother will tell you, "Why sweetheart, it's all about your baby." And wanting to be a good mom, maybe you begin to think that some of those aches and pains, some of those hard-to-sort-out emotions, some of that exhaustion or anxiety that you have felt since childbirth aren't really so important. It's all about the baby, right? Does being a good mother mean taking care of your baby at the expense of yourself?
Ever since your bundle of joy was conceived, you have been doing all you can for your little one. Perhaps you were one of those women who strictly followed all of the dietary advice given in pregnancy and childbirth books. You probably took the prenatal vitamins prescribed by your doctor and gave up that glass of wine with dinner. You most likely listened to advice from your mother, your coworkers, and even the woman at the supermarket checkout counter. In short, you have done everything you could to ensure your baby's good health and safe passage into the world.
Still, a lot of women experience quite a few surprises during the hard work of giving birth. Some find that their bodies hurt in ways unimagined. Sometimes that carefully detailed birth plan turns out not to be the way it all pans out. There is no way to prepare or know for sure what it is like to push life out of your body into the world. In the aftermath, you are likely to feel much older and certainly much wiser, as you have learned something you could never explain to someone who hasn't been there. You have entered the ranks of motherhood, and life is going to be very different from now on.
To you, your baby is now, and will hereafter be, perfect. And yet, in between your feelings of intense, glowing love, pride, and fulfillment, you may be feeling not just tired or fatigued, but exhausted. You may also be feeling discouraged, fearful, terribly insecure, or even depressed. Your belly may still look as though there might be another baby in there, except for the fact that it jiggles when you move. If you are breastfeeding, your breasts may often become so engorged that they feel like overfull sandbags propped on your chest. There is a good chance that you are constipated or that you are having headaches for the first time in your life. Your back may be killing you, and you may feel like telling your husband, "Don't even think about touching me." What's going on?
From A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Dean Raffelock, Robert Rountree, and Virginia Hopkins with Melissa Block. Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Dean Raffelock. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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