Why the Postpartum Period is Forever and What You Need to Know About the First Year of Parenthood
“Postpartum” is not a cold or a case of the Mondays. It’s forever.
As postpartum doulas no matter where we go or who we talk to, be it Great Aunt Susan or the guy at the Deli, we are perpetually explaining that the word postpartum is an adjective and not a noun! “Oh yeah, I know someone who had postpartum.” “I don’t want postpartum!” “I saw my doctor at 5 weeks so I don’t have postpartum anymore.” Well, we are here to gently say - your grandma is still postpartum! And that is because it literally means: ‘after’ (post) ‘delivery’ (partum)
When looked at like this, it's easy to see that you can’t ‘get’ or ‘catch’ “postpartum”, it’s not a cold or a case of the Mondays. Postpartum is the phase after delivery, beyond birth - it is the other side of the threshold. And the funny thing is, talking about it in a layered and truthful way that enables support, is one of the things that can actually stave off many of the challenges that arise.
So many people feel like a green light from an OB for sex and exercise means they SHOULD feel “ready” for those things. Did you know the 6 week marker is based more around insurance policy than biology, anatomy, psychology or the spirit? So friend, just because you are no longer bleeding from childbirth doesn’t mean that you are done healing. And you are not crazy, frigid or lazy if you’d rather binge watch The Great British Baking Show than bumble towards sex or dash out the door to the next bounceback spin class.
Here are 5 things we want you to know about the first year of parenthood.
We hope these five realizations will help you normalize wherever you're at, show you why postpartum is forever and support you through your first year of parenthood.
1. It can take years for your body to heal from pregnancy and childbirth. Be patient.
If you carried your baby then your body is healing from your pregnancy, not just your birth experience. Did you know that it can take up to 3 years for your nutrient stores to get back to pre-pregnancy levels? Yes! Even if you had a swift and breezy birth you grew a human! Repletion does not happen in 6 weeks or even 6 months. Your body may have changed structurally in terms of a diastasis, pelvic floor weakening, joints feeling overstretched. It is a LOT and the healing process needs to be slow and easy.
2. It might take a lifetime to process your birth experience and that’s ok.
It is a huge event with few containers in our culture to celebrate and integrate it. Some people have very hard birth experiences. Some people have birth experiences that read on paper like a “perfect score” but activated past trauma or created new trauma. Some people are mistreated in hospital or by care providers but felt silenced because of Dr/Patient hierarchy. Some people are disappointed by aspects of the experience. Some people thought the moment of birth would be more Hollywood/Hallmark and were just flat tired by the time baby emerged. Some people have long NICU stays that completely overshadow anything birth related.
Whatever your experience was/is, it is so normal to have a reaction to it. Even if that reaction is wanting to forget how it all went down. You can love your baby and also be so mad that it didn’t go how you wanted it to. Writing can help, therapy of course is wonderful as is any kind of bodywork that recognizes the somatics of body/heart/mind.
3. Stop thinking of the postpartum period as a “thing” to be transitioned out of.
When we pop the bubble of postpartum as a ‘thing’ or a short time window, it helps take the pressure off. Suddenly we stop trying to get “back” to something because we aren’t waiting for this thing or time to end. Just like in any other life threshold: moving, graduating college, a wedding, a new job - we are supposed to march forward, not backward. Even if you miss aspects of your old job you don’t gaslight yourself at your new desk wondering why your new job isn’t the SAME as your old job. You understand that you are in a new chapter and you take the best of what you have learned and march forward.
New parenthood is like a new job, city, marriage all at once - it’s a LOT. And you’ll have an easier integration if you’re not trying to go backwards.
4. Sex is going to feel weird at the best of times.
Sex. It’s weird. It’s weird at the best of times. Bodies are weird. The way we learn about bodies and sexuality is usually a bit weird and based more in commercialism than reality. Our past experiences can cloud our ability to be present. We want to impress our partner. Our insecurities surface - “should I try and sound more porn-y?” we wonder. Okay so now add the fact that your whole body is different. And some very serious stuff when down and OUT of it and you’re legitimately wondering if stuff is even physically chill enough to get busy.
Oh yeah and your body doesn’t remember to make its own lube any more. And also sometimes shoots milk with no warning.
And if you’re in a cis-hetero partnership then its unlikely your partner has any clue how to relate to the changes (we have also heard this from same sex partners too where one partner experienced birth and one did not!) which leaves a breeding ground of sensitivity, misunderstanding and possible resentment. Clearly all of these things add up to a guaranteed AMAZING ORGASM.
The point is this - take it slow, maybe just for now make a commitment to hold each other and spend non penetrative soft sweet time together each night. It will be less awkward if you take the pressure off, show love to the body that is feeling so nervous, and definitely let go of that grossy feeling of “owing” sex. You deserve juicy lovies that center your desire and you’ll get to that more organically if you take time, get comfortable with awkward and seek support when needed.
5. Be open to accepting and giving support.
Remember all humans need support, especially across thresholds and big life transitions. Normalizing this is literally our life’s mission. Who do you know that couldn’t benefit from a foot rub RIGHT NOW?! When we shrink down the support period for new parents we actually do all people an injustice. Giving and receiving feels good. Having a nourished community feels good. Let’s stop waiting for the 5 alarm fire to strike (for example, a perinatal mood disorder) before we ask for support.
If you’re 10 months postpartum, or 10 years postpartum and you need help processing your birth, feeling seen, or putting together a nourishing back stock of freezer meals, that should be available to you. The pressure goes down when support becomes an integrated norm - accepting support is a sign of strength and wisdom. In person support is amazing, but it’s not always possible. Virtual support groups such as those on the ellie app can be game changing for a new parent who is struggling to leave the house!
To continue this conversation or receive doula support, you can find Laura and Erica online at www.birdsongbrooklyn.com or ask them questions on the ellie app, a communication app for parenting groups, available on iOS and Android!