11 November 2016, by Tan Li Lin
Years ago, I read about a mother who put her infant in a Microwave. I was shocked and appalled that a mother could do that – and that was my introduction to Postpartum Depression. I didn’t understand what it meant then, but now, 1.5 months into having my first child, here’s my truth: Postpartum depression is real.
My friend and I were swapping new-mummy stories and sharing our postpartum experience, having a good laugh at how our hormones drove us nuts, how we struggled with breastfeeding, and all the epic mistakes we made over the last few weeks.
Postpartum life is tough, with a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately, most people don’t talk about it – we only hear about the ‘sleepless nights’ and ‘endless nappy changes’ but really, that’s the easiest bits.
I mean, look at this list of Postpartum Depression symptoms! I’d poo poo it thinking ‘depression’ wasn’t applicable to me, but the truth is, it’s real in so many every-day kind of ways.
This post aims to share the
romantic authentic side of postpartum life, as a *warning* to all soon-to-be-mummies, and also as a shout out and a ^5 to all new mummies who have found a Superwoman within them (!).
#1 – You will experience all/most/many of the physical discomforts known to Womankind
Perineal and episiotomy (aka “down there”) soreness, hemorrhoids (made worse with constipation), Urinary Tract Infection, migraines, aches all over, sore nipples, bruised breasts, epic gastric pains… I had different pains everyday for the first 3 weeks. As soon as 1 condition healed, another came. Basic movements (peeing, sitting down, carrying baby etc.) were excruciating. Just getting into a comfortable position to eat or pump milk took everything I had.
The light at the end of the tunnel? The body will heal eventually. Mine took 3 weeks with the help of nutritious food and post-natal massage… and a compliant husband (empathy is a bonus).
#2 – You’d become unfamiliar with your new Life(style)
It changed almost overnight. You’d probably get warned by many about the ‘sleepless nights’ that you’d experience.
Sleepless nights meant 2 things:
1. Intense grumpiness and a short-temper. My husband and I had ‘whisper-shouting’ matches in the middle of some nights arguing about whose turn it was to feed and clean the baby.
2. Literally… sleepless nights. “You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, nor can you sleep at any other time. Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep no matter how tired you are.” (extracted from earlier mentioned list of PPD symptoms)
It’d take me 45 minutes to quieten my mind (because “Your thoughts are racing. You can’t settle down. You can’t relax. You feel like you have to be doing/checking something at all times.”) only to have to wake up 15 minutes later to pump. AGAIN. More on that later.
2 – 4 hours of sleep is enough to keep me energised throughout the day, but where the lack of sleep gets to me is when I find myself caught in the same routine of pumping, feeding, cleaning bottles, changing diapers, rocking baby to sleep, pumping, feeding, changing…the cycle continues and it gets to me emotionally.
It seems that 23 hours is spent doing this and 1 hour is all that’s left for me to bathe, eat, rest, reply messages and emails. On some days I forget to brush my teeth, or I realised only after a week that I hadn’t washed my hair. I feel so trapped – just less intensely now that I’ve somewhat accepted this lifestyle.
#3 – The Breast-frenemy relationship will leave you cringing, cursing and crying
It’s a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding. This was the biggest test of my perseverance and dedication to motherhood. I assumed breastfeeding was easy and natural since mothers have been doing for CENTURIES. If I understood more and had better prepared myself, my postpartum would have been more enjoyable. If not for fellow breastfeeding friends, I’d have given up after a week.
Stressful – Baby was bottle fed since she stayed in Neonatal for 2 weeks. I had heard of ‘nipple confusion’ but caved when the nurse ‘recommended’ baby move from syringe to bottle because “see, she’s spitting out so much milk” (it turns out that’s because the reflexes of a newborn’s tongue pushes the milk out of the mouth, but it’s not because she can’t drink from a syringe) I regretted giving the go-ahead. It took 2 weeks for baby to eventually get used to sucking from a nipple and not from a bottle teat.
Confusing – I spent my first 2 weeks breastfeeding thinking something was wrong. Why was she suckling and not latching? Am I doing it right? Maybe I’m holding her wrong. Argh it hurts like hell! It’s been 1.5 hours since she started feeding, why are we taking so long?
I eventually learned that I was really being hard on us – and ignorant – about this whole breastfeeding thing. By the 3rd week I re-learn that breastfeeding is a process in which we had to learn to sync with each other, and that burping, playing, cleaning, feeding and putting her to sleep were all part of the same process that stretched across 1 – 3 hours.
Painful – Toe-curling kind of painful. For 5 weeks my nipples went through hell. I dreaded breastfeeding and felt so torn between the desire to breastfeed and the guilt of turning to the bottle to avoid the pain.
Troublesome – All those pumps and bottles to wash and sterilise. The calculating of hours to her next feed or to the next pump. Lugging pumps and stuff out. And the milk… just gets everywhere! On her face, on her freshly cleaned neck, freshly changed onesie, on the bed, on the floor, all over my body. Worst part is, it’s so sticky!
More precious time wasted going around cleaning up all those annoying droplets of white dried up milk stains on the beautiful parquet floor *silent scream*
Postpartum opens up a wealth of paradoxical encounters you never knew you could experience internally.
It’ll make you feel like running out of the house and never returning. I turned to food, but I also learned to turn to the loving support that my family, husband, friends and even my nieces and helper provided. Most of all, I learned to trust myself as a new mother; to draw newfound strength from the role and from those innocent, trusting eyes of my newborn baby girl.