The Truth About the Fourth Trimester
Hello & Happy Sunday!!
I still find it hard to believe I’m sharing my fourth trimester with you. Not only because over the years I’ve realized that nothing is ever promised, careers, marriage, or even babies, but also because I honestly struggled to find the extra time to put it together lol. Being a new parent is truly the greatest joy of my entire life, but like anyone will tell you, it’s also the most consuming. As time goes on I’m getting better at managing my time.
In sharing such a personal experience with labor/delivery and that wicked 4th trimeter, I wanted to make sure I truly offered transparency and captured just how stressful it all can be. After 3 months of navigating life with a newborn I felt I could give an honest viewpoint of it all. No fluff, no sugar coating, just the real deal you can expect when bringing life into this world. So here we go! As always, it’s important to emphasize that every pregnancy, labor and baby is different. My experience, may not resemble yours at all.
So why is it important to share the negative aspects of childbirth and being a new mom? It’s imperative to bring transparency to one of the greatest journeys in life. I could easily gloss over the entire experience with perfect pictures making it appear as though it’s just a chapter filled with endless moments of pure bliss. However, I’d be doing women everywhere a disservice.
As a society we continue to filter the stress of child labor and being a new parent perhaps because we don’t want to scare new parents, appear ungrateful, or that we don’t love our babies as much as the next mom. However, it’s perfectly normal to get lost in it all. I know in the first few weeks of being a mom, I absolutely did.
Pregnancy is hard, delivery even harder, and recovering from it all while you try to figure out life with a newborn.. the hardest thing I’ve done yet. (and I thought grad school was the hardest lol) If you’re reading this, you’re either hoping to conceive, pregnant, or just gave birth and in the same boat as me. I hope through sharing my experience it sheds light on the many areas we continuously fail to talk about.
There are more struggles to navigating life with a newborn than experiencing a lack of sleep, pants that don’t fit, or even the never ending night sweats I never heard about lol. True. Story.
Even typing this post is surreal, I reached a point where I thought perhaps babies were never going to happen. I pinch myself every day knowing that he’s ours. While parenthood isn’t required to have a fulfilling life, I personally dreamed of being a mom. The idea that our job as a parent can shape the trajectory of their entire lives is just so powerful.
My only vision was that I take my education as far as I can prior to that chapter of my life. Instead of having babies when many friends were, I put a pause on it, and decided to finish my bachelors and masters degree. I’d never take back that decision, but it absolutely made the process of conceiving more delayed. Right when I was on the verge of giving up after a chemical pregnancy, we conceived and the stress of it all was lifted.
However, many fail to realize the stress that arrives. Whether it be worrying about carrying to term, delivering, or the new stress of keeping your baby alive lol, one ends and another always begins. While it has been my greatest journey, it’s a never ending ride of stress, especially if you struggled to conceive, and I’m sure especially if you’re a new parent.
As a whole I’d say my pregnancy was fairly smooth sailing. It’s hard to discern at first what’s a difficult pregnancy when you have nothing to compare it to, but join a women’s group and it will help you better gauge it all lol. Compared to the pregnancy horror stories I heard along the way, ironically I felt that the one trimester that was glossed over, was that 4th trimester.
People are always curious about signs of labor as they differ for every woman. 5 days out from my due date I started to notice signs and symptoms. I was have braxton hicks contractions that were continuous then sporadic at night, I started to lose some of my plug (TMI), light bleeding, and what I remember most..
I went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (4hr movie) and I was in such pain throughout the entire film that I didn’t think I was going to make it lol. The babies movements were more aggressive due to the loud sounds perhaps, and were even painful. I just knew it was time.
Leading up to his arrival I consumed a lot of dates to thin my uterine lining, exercised, ate spicy foods, and the night he came I had a random buffalo “chicken” sandwich lol. True story.
The night I went into active labor, I woke up at about 2:30 am and just knew that these were real contractions and coming with a pattern and felt like it was just, time. Right away contractions were 6 minutes apart, so we called the doctor and he advised us to wait until they were 3 minutes. Being a first pregnancy, and paranoid, we quickly grabbed our things and left asap. While they recommend to wait, in retrospect I’m just so glad we left early. With barely a 15 minute drive, I had contractions 2 minutes apart by the time I was in triage and the pain was unbearable.
While I was 100% effaced and only 3 cm dilated, they admitted me given the frequency of contractions and that with first time pregnancies dilation takes longer. I was immediately taken to a delivery room, but by the time they got me set up, processed my paperwork, prepped me for the epidural, I was in excruciating pain with back to back contractions.
I have a history of seizure like episodes so in addition to the horrific pain I was nervous I’d faint and endanger the baby. Just how painful are contractions? Simply put, if someone tells you they had an unmedicated birth, they are the closest thing to a superhero in my eyes lol.
I had the epidural, everything was smooth sailing for the most part. I rested, and we waited for the next doctor to come on and start pushing. Dilation was steady, then slowed towards the very end and pitocin was provided. I started pushing around 4:00 the next day. All would have been fine, but I ended up pushing for about 3 1/2 hours. Seeing the look of disappointment on my doctors face who stayed past here shift to deliver my baby, I gave one last push with everything I had and he arrived. Exhausted with a 2nd degree tear, made my recovery much more intense than I envisioned.
I couldn’t walk from the epidural, it hurt to sit down, I had no appetite, and my body ached all over that I was in tears. Prior to delivery I set up an appointment to take pictures at the hospital. While I cherish these images, they can be very misleading (see above). Although smiling, I was in immense pain, worn out to the core, and just thrust into this new life as a mom.
My body didn’t look the same, from the hormones I didn’t feel the same, and faced with figuring out how to soothe a screaming baby just made me feel defeated. While I read all the books and took all the workshops, nothing could have prepared me for all of that. You really just don’t know what it’s like until you’re in it.
You carry them for 9 months, make it to the finish line, and now things start getting real when you take them home. Upon taking our son home the nurse was “helping” us put the baby in the car seat. Rather than coming over and helping two new parents with the process and physically show us, she sat there with a disapproving expression as the baby screamed and said “is that right?”. We loaded up the car and sitting in the seat I felt every inch of my body just ache. I knew this new life wasn’t going to start off easy, and I was right.
While at the hospital the baby wasn’t latching well, I was in pain when he did, and I only had colostrum until day 4 when my milk came in. The following day we visited our pediatrician for a check up. I remember walking to the office from the car as it took forever given the pain I felt. The doctor instantly had an expression of concern given that the baby had lost 1lb since delivery. While it’s very common, she demanded I give him formula on the spot. The entire appointment she just gave off this energy that “we didn’t know what we were doing”. I know my emotions were heightened from hormones, but even my husband agreed with the car seat and doctors appointment experience. They just weren’t comforting.
We supplemented with formula until the milk finally came in. Once it did though I instantly got an infection because of his latch, which resulted in mastitis. On top of the pain from delivery, I was hit with even more that was comparable to child labor. Keep in mind, this is only day 5 after giving birth.
In addition to the mastitis I also realized that while I didn’t suffer from PPD, I had Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), which I had never even heard of. In short, it’s characterized by an abrupt dysphoria, or negative emotions, that occur just before milk release and continuing not more than a few minutes. Picture all of the stresses discussed and those moments of bonding with your baby through breast feeding shattered because of hormones.
There’s been no formal research done on D-MER, but the theory is that dopamine is to blame. When a baby suckles, the hormone prolactin rises in order for the body to make more milk. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, helps control prolactin, and its levels must fall for prolactin to rise. Dopamine stabilizes after prolactin goes up, so most women are blissfully unaware that any of this is happening. For others that are more sensitive to the drop in dopamine it can effect the mood. Once I realized that this was taking place I was able to remind myself that it will dissipate and it’s just hormones. However, it still happens every time whether feeding or pumping and I have to remind myself.
In addition to the D-MER, there are many instances where anxiety is triggered with a new baby. Even as one who rarely breaks down, dreamed of being a mom, struggled to conceive, I found myself lost in it all for at least 2 weeks to a month and cried a few times. At 11 days I recall feeling more like myself, but again, still stressed. I think the one thing we overlook is that these obstacles are amplified given our physical state after labor with discomfort and raging hormones.
My body was in such pain after birth all I could do was lay in bed, everything else had to be handled by my husband. While our home was immaculate on day one, within days it looked like a bomb went off. I recall my husband stressing about the cleanliness of the bathroom at one point and given the intense recover I just, broke. Sadly, while he was there for the entire experience, I don’t think he realized just how much pain I was in. I don’t think many men can even comprehend the toll it takes on us physically and mentally.
All new parents have to figure out how they like their swaddles, which pacifiers are preferred, what bottles they like, what formula they’ll drink, get them comfortable being in a rocker, how to get their burps out, documenting all the feedings and diapers, what nursing pillows are a good fit, his cues for napping and the list goes on, and on, and on. Getting to know your baby is exciting, but coupled with recovery after childbirth it can take a toll. It sounds like a breeze from a distance, but you have to keep in mind that this is all taking place while on no sleep, your body aching, you haven’t showered, it hurts to even shower, to even cough/sneeze due to tearing, and you and your significant other are probably fighting from all of the combined stress lol.
Our lives were quickly unrecognizable from the moment our son arrived lol. However in hindsight l interpret that statement now in a positive light, as this new life is far better and more rich than the one we had before.
In all honesty, you will lose your hair, your mind, time to shower and the list goes on, but everything else in this life pales in comparison to creating life. While the experience is different for every woman, for myself I feel that when your child is born, in many ways, you too are reborn. You’re stripped of the life you once knew and loved, left in the dust, a soon distant memory, but this beautiful new life has arrived. Along with this new life, any guilt, regret, or remorse I once had for anything, was instantly washed away. It was cleansing to the soul, healing, and if a weight I never knew I carried.. was lifted.
My best advice for navigating this life as a new parent, is to be kind to yourself, take time for yourself, and at the end of the day always do what works for you. There is no right or wrong way as long as it means the baby is coming out safely and a baby is fed. Lastly, be vulnerable and communicate everything to your partner. They’ll never know what you and your body just went through, but they can try and understand if you convey where you are and how you’re feeling.
Items that were game changers:
(get a full review coming soon to EDS!)
- Attitude cleaning products – Non toxic and work better than toxic!
- Elvie Breast Pump – Been keeping me alive since day 1, can’t say enough!
- Mama Roo Rocker – Baby loves it and has multiple speeds & movements!
- Eco Piggy Pacifiers – Non toxic pacifiers (heavier)
- Bibs Pacifiers – Non toxic pacifiers (lighter)
- Hevea Bottles – Glass bottles, small nipple, baby loves it!
- Comotomo Bottles – Easy to use and clean
- Mini Mori + Monica & Andy + Kyte Baby clothes (kimono styles were best)
- Parasol Wipes – Great packaging, marketing, thick & durable wipes!
- Avocado mattress to improve your sleep! – Organic, vegan, non toxic, firm, but soft!
- Pact Organic sheets – Organic, great price, soft, and wash well!