The Fourth Trimester

I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time and keep rewriting it and rewriting it because the further I get away from the “fourth trimester” (as it’s called), the more I reflect on this post and feel like wow…this sounds intense. Like…should I maybe lighten the mood here a bit? Is this too much? And like every mum before me, I don’t want to unnecessarily terrify or scare a mum-to-be! I know what it’s like to be pregnant and looking ahead and feeling nervous for everything to come.

Also, I have this thing where just about every memory I have gets the rose-coloured-glasses effect in retrospect, so it’s really hard to imagine there was a time when I was crying most days or struggling so much since for the most part, I’m truly having an unbelievably amazing time these days (if exhausting…Cal decided he now knows how to crawl backwards, has gotten his first front two teeth, is pulling himself up to sitting, etc, all at the tender age of 4.5 months old, so life has been go-go-go to say the least). Since about 6 weeks on (I don’t know why but 6 weeks and it’s like a light switch was flipped on), life with my little boy has just gotten sweeter and sweeter. Honestly, I could never imagine how much fun it’d be, how much I’d laugh, how sweet the snuggles are and how much my love just continues to grow for him to the point that my chest physically feels like it’s splitting open.

Finally, I’ve kind of waffled on this post because my memory of this time has gotten very, very foggy. And for good reason…the early days are hard! I think your body and your mind loosen their grip on the harder parts as time goes on because it doesn’t really serve you to hold onto them. Oddly, I remember my labour perfectly (that was one part I thought I’d forget) but yeah, I’m really starting to lose the memories of those first few weeks. I fortunately kept pretty good records and journaled that time or wrote drafts of this post, so I want to just bite the bullet and share these memories as they were captured for the most part but in the form of some takeaways and reflections that I could’ve really used at the time. This is a bit of a jumbled post so bear with me but I hope it really helps someone in the early days or who’s pregnant looking ahead! And I say this at the end but if you read nothing else, please just hear this…

You may find the fourth trimester and newborn life comes easily to you, and if that’s the case, that is so, so amazing. But if it doesn’t, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I think this stage of babyhood is designed to be hard for a reason…through baptism by fire, you come out the other side at lightning speed a more confident, capable and attuned mum. If you feel like you’re struggling or if you’re crying in the shower or if you can’t remember the last time you felt well-rested, please know that so, so, so many other mums are going through this right alongside you (even if they’re not saying it) and most importantly, know it’s temporary. Know it gets unbelievably better. From one mum to the next, seriously…you’ve got this!

It’s hard (for most people)…

Listen, I’m not being negative here. It is not negative to state that this is going to be hard…it’s just a fact. I want to get this one out of the way because I think it is suuuuuuch bullshit that as a new mum, 95% of what I saw shared online was exclusively about the magic of these early days. There are going to be amazing, magical moments, and those will outweigh the negative ones (particularly in retrospect). But these early days are hard, and I don’t want to say anything to the contrary to try to not scare someone or whatever. That would be doing a disservice to them because honestly, we as women are so, so tough. We can do hard. Pregnancy, labour & nursing aside, we also get our periods every month and still manage to live our lives and kick ass in workout classes and get paid and meet up with friends and travel the world. And we get this EVERY MONTH. So women can manage hard…we are able to do incredibly physically and mentally challenging things that straight up, no guy would ever be able to do.

So when you only see people talk about the magical, uplifting parts of motherhood and wonder if you’re struggling more than you should, if you’re some random outlier and wondering why it’s coming easily to everyone else, etc. NO. It is hard! I feel like this obsession with only sharing the good invalidates the whole spectrum of motherhood…the hard parts are necessary, and I think to some extent, actually beneficial in the long run. I honestly think it’s so hard at the beginning so that you become a more attuned parent more quickly. You’re still learning about your baby, they’re still getting to know you, you have to learn a whole new set of skills that if you’re a first-time parent, you couldn’t possibly, possibly ever know. That stuff only comes from experience and getting your hands dirty (literally, dirty…Cal has quite the explosive little bum, so I would know), and I think it’s so hard that you’re forced to 100% commit fully to it. This dedication pays off though because all of a sudden you find yourself on the other end of it really fairly quickly, anticipating your baby’s needs like a pro, developing a magic bag of tricks and skills to soothe and entertain, and all in all, you discover you know your baby more than anyone else in the world.

Having said that, one caveat because I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s experience. You may have friends or see some people on Instagram say that the beginning was easy, or that it came naturally to them, or that they haven’t experienced any hardship. Or this may be you! First off, I do think there are some people who do just find the newborn stage comes easily to them, and I don’t want to take that away from them or insinuate that that’s not their truth, because some people are just lucky or this period is just a better fit for them. But while I’m not invalidating their experience at all, I think it’s important to note that by and large, the people who don’t really struggle are unicorns. I think there is a handful of these lucky few, and then many more who feel pressure to not complain about something as magical as welcoming a baby into the world (and I’m saying that with zero judgment…I found myself feeling like I needed to censor my “complaining” sometimes because at times it’d be met with replies that felt somewhat deflective, so I totally get the general social pressure to not complain).

But there’s a difference between complaining and explaining. Objectively, having a baby is an incredibly hard thing to do. And attaching any shame to expressing that in a healthy way is so awful and unfair to maternal health, mentally and physically. So yes, it’s hard and we are made to do this and you have got this…but also know it’s okay (more than okay) to share the hard parts with your people and to vent (and if you feel a lack of support there or feel like you need more support, to find the right support for you…I saw the same counsellor through my pregnancy and postpartum, and she has been an incredible asset to me).

…it’s so hard, but it’s magical

I’ll tell you right now with zero shame that I prefer this stage of babyhood 5000000% more than I do the newborn stage. Everyone’s different and some people really love when they just have the newborn cuddles around the clock and that the more active their baby gets the harder it is, or they struggle with the baby stage altogether and are much happier with toddlerhood, etc. Everyone’s different and so everyone will find a different stage resonates with them most. I am a very energetic person generally so I find this stage to be super fun, and am so grateful I have such an active little baby who challenges me somehow already to keep up with him! He’s so much fun and I can not stress enough (because I feel like I have general skepticism about people talking about their experiences now that I’ve been through it, so know this is my truth!), this stage of babyhood exceeds all my wildest expectations, I am having the best time of my life, even as exhausting as it is.

But while I prefer this stage so much more, the newborn stage does have its own special kind magic, one of total wonder when time and life does this massive shift as your whole world reorients around this new little one. Your heart and mind and life basically shatter into a million pieces in the most beautiful way in those first few days, as these pieces are stirred up in the tornado of newborn life and eventually settle, all swirling around your precious new focal point.

I don’t have many regrets but one thing I wish I could change was how much space I gave for doubt and worry. I was constantly worried if I was doing things the right way, if I was doing okay, if I was going to be a good mum, etc. I wish instead I had embraced the mess more and just accepted that I was going to muddle and mistake my way through this part and that that was just fine, engraving all those moments when Cal needed me most in my memory as I went along (the good and the hard parts). Apparently babies don’t actually view their bodies as separate from their mums, which is the most beautiful thing…how magical to have been someone’s home for 9-10 months and for them to still see you as home afterwards! Unless you have more kids, that’s really just a once in a lifetime experience (and even then, it’s only ever once in a lifetime with that particular baby). It won’t last forever, for better or worse, so don’t doubt yourself, don’t worry, just know you’re going to work through this stage at your own pace and that as it is you were already meant to be the best mum to this little one, but with each passing day you’re only getting more and more synched to one another too.

So yes it’s hard, yes there will be some tough times and you wonder how long they’ll last for, but in those moments there is so much beauty because this is when your baby needs you most desperately. I had expectations before Cal came to maintain work, to get back to 5x workouts a week once I was cleared to workout again, to see my friends/family and maintain a pretty hopping social life (or as much as I could given COVID), etc. Once I really embraced that I had to just be present for him for a little bit and drop everything else (think that happened around 5-6 weeks, which is when I really felt like I had a turning point in general), I loosened on all of those other expectations and really just kept remembering that these magical moments of him needing me to feel safe & nourished will one day end (or at the very least, he will be much, much more self-sufficient). You’ll have your whole life to do x y z, but soak in these moments with your teeny tiny one when they really and truly are that teeny and tiny. You won’t be thinking of the missed workouts or the work you left on the table 50 years from now, but you will desperately hold onto every magical memory you have of the one(s) you love most.

Recovery will happen but it may take longer than you thought

I had a really straightforward pregnancy, a really straightforward (and fast) labour and really straightforward recovery. I literally couldn’t have wished for anything better than what I got…seriously I got so lucky. But even with everything going so well, recovery took some time…in fact, much more time than I anticipated. I thought I’d be itching to get out for a walk as soon as possible and particularly since I’d been so active throughout my pregnancy, it was hard to believe that all because of labour and just ooooone day of pushing out this baby, my body would need that much time to recover (sometimes, I worry about my logic). But straight up, even with a really great labour, it’s a pretty big event for your body. It’s pretty incredible to see just how amazingly it recovers actually, but I underestimated the recovery process. Add in the fact that we have a 4th level condo with no elevator to contend with, and I really was surprised to find myself not caring at all about getting out for a looooong time. I think my first walk was 8 days in and I just went around the block. A couple days later I shuffled along the Seawall but kept it short, and up until 3 weeks I just kept extending the distance bit by bit. Oddly, around 3 weeks it was like a switch flipped and then all of a sudden one day I could just walk the same as I always did and was itching to get back to my workouts…it was like I made some sort of massive leap in my recovery overnight. But I’m really, really grateful I was so patient and compassionate to myself leading up to that because I think that made all the difference in my healing.

Also, things no one tells you about…you don’t get to rest at the hospital! Or at least, I didn’t. I delivered Cal in the evening and by the time I’d showered, had one last snuggle with my new baby and had my first post-labour meal (the shittiest pizza ever), it was almost 2AM and I was like GOODNIIIIIIGHT this new mama is ready for a nice 8 hour sleep, time for some serious R&R after all the hard work of, you know, pushing a baby out. I’m not sure what I was thinking but sure enough, I was shaken awake like an hour into my sleep by a nurse to get my temperature taken and some other vitals and let me tell you, I was pretty miserable about it. I figured this was just the first night protocol plus the fact that I delivered after the 24 hour window of my waters breaking so thought it’d be better maybe the next night but no, then you hit the second night and the baby starts cluster feeding and if you’re like me, you’re both struggling with how to figure out nursing. So pretty much you just pushed a baby out of your vagina or had a C-section, you’re still bleeding, your body is all inflamed & swollen, you haven’t taken a sip of water in hours and you’re literally at a loss for how to do anything (to illustrate how little we knew, they had to show us how to hold Cal in the hospital)…and you also don’t really get to sleep. 

But again, kind of the theme of this whole post…it’s tough but you’re tougher. Your body is a pretty amazing thing and even while running on little sleep and feeling exhausted, bit by bit you’ll feel more and more like yourself. By all means, take the time you can to nap when family visits or get your partner to give you breaks, but even if you find yourself not getting that time or support, know that your body will still recover and you’ll slowly but surely catch up on sleep. Do what you can to nourish and rest (see my postpartum recovery checklist) but you will be okay and believe it or not, soon enough you’ll be out living your life like normal, pre-pregnancy times (but with a baby, of course) and it’ll be hard to imagine just how recently you were in recovery.

Prep for nursing

Again, want to share this part not to scare but to inform. People build up labour as the scary part and for some, it can admittedly be a bit traumatic or scary if things take a turn. But I did want to share Cal’s birth story because for me, it was very, very positive. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in one go, but I did it, it was manageable, I breathed my way through it and I remember standing in the shower that night while Matt cuddled Cal and just being like…wow. I’m such a badass. How the fuck did I do that. I am truly amazing. Then I just smiled at myself in the mirror and admired myself for awhile longer, went to sleep and then got woken up an hour later, as mentioned above.

I do want to acknowledge that I was very, very lucky and that a lot of people experience longer, harder or more traumatic births…but the fact is, for all of us it starts and it stops in a fairly short window of time compared to nursing (they literally won’t allow you to exceed a certain window of time). All that to say, do prep work for labour & delivery 100%, but know it’s just one moment, and usually just one day (or two, at most a few). Nursing will be days upon days, and it’s something you can’t take a break from if you’re trying to breastfeed your baby for a multitude of reasons…they need the milk, you need to keep your supply up, you need to learn, baby needs to learn how to latch, etc.

To put it simply and kind of bluntly, nursing was extremely painful for me at first. Like a certain toe-curling type of pain I can’t really describe properly. But please hear this part: I’m now 4 months in and Cal is still exclusively breastfed and barring some recent pain from him working around his new little teeth (like little shark teeth honestly, they’re so sharp!) it is such a beautiful and special experience now. I’m not just saying that to assuage any fears. It’s true. I love it. Every night I nurse him in side lying position and his warm little body is right next to mine and he puts his hand up on my chest and I breathe in his scent and kiss his head. It’s the most special part of every day. I am a firm, firm believer that fed is best but if you want to nurse, know that it does get better. And if you’re at the very beginning and you’re like holy hell when does this improve, know that there’s a general turning point at 3 weeks for most of us…my pain lasted longer than that but I did notice a massive improvement and reduction in pain around then. 

Having said all that, I wish that in addition to the hours I spent learning hypnobirthing and all the baby prep courses I took, I put in a bit more time to do a breastfeeding course, sourced a lactation consultant to get in right as soon as I was home from the hospital (not 6 weeks in like I did) and just read more accounts of what was normal for breastfeeding.

Like I said before, it’s a disservice to all our fellow women to cloud the realities of postpartum experience in false positivity because we are strong and we can do really hard things.

I would’ve tried to nurse because it was something I wanted to do no matter what, even if I knew it’d be really, really hard. So I just want to be honest about it. When I posted about how much I was struggling to my stories, I was shocked to be flooded with hundreds of messages from other mums who’d struggled massively at the beginning (so many also comforting me with assurances that they’re further along and love it, same as how I feel now). “Why didn’t people talk about this?! Why didn’t anyone warn me?” was all that went through my mind when I finally realized how common this was. 

So again, I’m not trying to scare (I feel like I can’t repeat that enough) but I want to urge you to get support in this area and give yourself lots and lots of grace while you and baby figure this out if you decide to nurse. I feel like there’s a difference between panicking and preparing, and I just want any fellow mum or mum-to-be to know what to prep for. And if nursing doesn’t work for you, then great! Formula is amazing. I’m likely going to start supplementing with some formula as my mum is taking on a childcare role in addition to my MIL so I’ll be able to get back to work more days and longer hours, and pumping that much just isn’t sustainable for me. But I honestly wanted to stick with breastfeeding and keep my supply up not for any other reason other than I just wanted the ease of being able to feed whenever and wherever since I tend to be outside and all over the place every day, and cart Cal along with me (I’m also supremely lazy so didn’t want to contend with lots of bottles). That’s the only reason. Nutrition-wise, your baby will be covered either way.

Give yourself 3 feel-good anchors a day

Time basically enters a vortex with a newborn. In those first few weeks, you’ll just find each day bleeding into one another, which is kind of the beauty of that time too but it can also make you start to feel a bit unhinged.

Whatever it is, have 3 feel-good things that you do for yourself or maybe with your partner that will punctuate every day so that you break up your days a bit. For me, it was getting outside (even if it meant my patio in the first week or so before I was out walking again), having a shower and watching Parks & Rec (and when we were done that, we watched Chuck, and then it was the holidays so we watched Christmas movies). Some days were a mess and I wouldn’t get in the shower or whatever, but by and large in those early days I mostly managed to do all 3 every single day.

Some other ideas might be taking 5 minutes to journal, doing some yoga (whatever you can do given the stage of recovery you’re at), FaceTiming a loved one or chatting on the phone, meditating, doing a facial or other skincare self-care, gardening or even cleaning if you’re a neat freak who somehow gets pleasure out of tidying (not me, our place is a mess constantly). This is one thing I think I did right, and one I’m so grateful for because I feel like it set a tone for me moving forward. I show up 100% for this kid as the go-to parent during the week and I love every minute of being with him, but I feel like I’m pretty good at taking my moments to get a workout in, to pretty much tell Matt on weekends “nope, that’s you bud” if Cal’s fussing and step away to watch Real Housewives or something, my mum and MIL will be providing childcare soon (my MIL currently does but I’ll have a couple added days of support with my mum in the fold soon) so I’m also really excited to be getting back to work since I’ve had to reduce my workload so much lately and that’s been hard on me. Long story short, I had a couple pangs of guilt at the beginning but now I get it…happy, thriving, fulfilled mummy makes for a happier household in general. So I commit to doing what feels good for me, and can be pretty bossy sometimes when it comes to claiming that time but could care less! It’s critical (and Matt gets it and is great about it too).

Take a lot of pictures & shoot a lot of videos

Because if you’re like me, you’ll put the baby down, take a moment to pour a glass of wine and think “yes, now finally time for a little me time and to just unwind from the day” and then promptly pull out your phone and go down a wormhole of pictures and vides of your little angel until you go to sleep. I know, I’m such a loser. Obsessed doesn’t even begin to describe it (have you…seen Cal?! I know he’s mine but my gawd what a beauty). All these pictures and videos will not only help you remember times that can get preeeeetty foggy on you pretty quickly, but they’ll also serve to remind you of how strong you are, how you pulled through, how you found those moments of peace or beauty or even quiet in the midst of so much chaos, just you and your little wee one. Babies change so, so quickly. It’s almost heartbreaking actually, or at the very least I don’t think there is a truer application of the word “bittersweet” than to this period of life. You want to see your baby grow and change and develop and thrive, but they grow in such leaps and bounds that day-to-day, your baby isn’t the same baby he/she was the day before. Pictures and videos are the only way of capturing and freezing these moments. And you’ll want to revisit them, even if the newborn days weren’t the easiest for you. 

Wow, okay that’s it! I hope that this wasn’t as “intense” as I was worried it’d be. My aim in being honest about those early days is always, always, always to inform and empower so that you can prep appropriately…I just want to do my part to make sure no new mum is caught unawares and wondering what the hell is happening and if she’s normal and googling everything wondering if she’s okay. Hopefully, if you’re expecting or thinking about it for down the road (or even currently in the early days), this post just helps you realize that everything you’re going through is normal, that generations upon generations of women have gone through the same thing (even the things that seem particularly alarming, like intrusive thoughts, middle-of-the-night panics, soaking your bed with night sweats…all VERY normal, but also very scary when they happen).

It can be a very tough period for some people (a lot of people, really) but it’s temporary. Honestly, a bit too temporary. As I mentioned, time doesn’t follow its usual rhythm during the fourth trimester. It’s like a whirlpool and after feeling sucked into it for some time spinning around the same cycle endlessly circling what can at times feel like a drowning point, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself spat out of it and settling into a more sustainable rhythm, with a baby that you know inside and out and with both of you thriving. You’ll feel more well rested. You’ll maybe even be back to some regular exercise. You’ll see your friends. You’ll have a cocktail. You’ll do your hair and makeup just to go to the grocery store. You’ll pack up and go on a trip (our first one this weekend!). You’ll enter a new normal and it’ll be so much sweeter, so much better, so much more colourful with your new one in tow.

And again: You. Are. Not. Alone. One thing I’m so grateful for is that in addition to my amazing friends, when I shared my struggles online at the beginning and felt really vulnerable and raw in that moment, I connected with the most amazing community of women via my IG and I feel like I’ve got these unbelievable online friends now, many who are at roughly the same stages timeline-wise as me. I’m happy I was vulnerable because it rewarded me with the most amazing sense of connectivity and community, so please, if you ever feel like you’re alone in the ups and downs of motherhood, if you don’t want to reach out to anyone in your own circle, reach out to me! You’ve got this.

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