Everybody knows about the first three trimesters of pregnancy, but nobody tells you how different the fourth is. You may think that this is because nobody wants to scare you or make you feel like your pregnant body isn’t normal enough already. But it’s not just that; there are some things nobody prepares you for in advance.
The fourth trimester. Those first three months of your baby’s life when they’re still very much a part of mum. It’s a concept I thought I was prepared for. Turns out – ha! – I was wrong.
I read books, I read long-form articles. I even went to a two-day course on ‘What to expect after your baby is born. It was run by the Women’s Hospital where I gave birth and it was extremely informative.
The educator mentioned that labor and birth often eclipse everything else and that the hard part begins once you get home. I heard that with my ears, but it did not seem to reach my brain.
If you can handle the crying …
I remember a friend at work telling me, just before I went on maternity leave, “If you can handle the crying and the feeling that they’re somehow going to die, you’ll be fine.”
Of course, I thought this was preposterous. “Who is scared of crying?” I thought. “Who thinks their baby will die just because they’re crying?”
But those damned hormones. They do. They think a saber-toothed tiger is coming to your cave to devour your baby and so they tell your brain to always BE ON ALERT.
1. Hormones will influence everything
Why was my baby grunting? Is he struggling to breathe? Why would he not settle for hours? Why was he hungry straight after I fed him? Why was his poo doing that? Oh no! Oh no! He just vomited! Is he dehydrated now? Should I force him to feed so he doesn’t die in the night? What if he dies in the night?
Is he rolling over? No, of course, he can’t do that yet! But why won’t he stay in his swaddle? Does that mean I can’t even wrap a swaddle correctly? Why I am so bad at this? Am I doing the worst thing possible for my baby????
Part of this panicked thinking was hormones, and part of it was lack of sleep. I had no idea that when mothers complain about no sleep, they really mean no sleep. For weeks on end!
I had no idea that breastfeeding would be so incredibly hard, either. Or that my baby’s cries would have such a deep effect on my physical being. Why are my boobs – previously as hard as concrete – leaking right now? Why, when my milk first came in did I feel nauseated and dizzy?
2. I should not have watched ‘Black Fish’
I remember my husband watching a documentary when our baby was three weeks old. It was on the whales held at SeaWorld, called Black Fish. Excellent documentary. Really important stuff. Just one thing: never, ever watch it when you’ve just given birth and your hormones are bananas. The opening scene is of a mother whale crying for her babies who have been captured so they may be sold to Seaworld.
I can not even begin to describe the visceral feeling that crept up my entire body and manifested in a heaving, crying jag. I honestly laugh at it now.
3. There will be blood
Speaking of hormones. Every medical professional and Google search told me that my bleeding would last for no more than six weeks. Yeah, ok, sure. Pull back a chair – that’s at least one more week. Breastfeed for more than half an hour? Yeah, there will be blood. And just when you think it’s behind you, there will be more.
Turns out the six-week rule is about as useful as the ‘your period will last for five days’ rule, in that there is a lot more deviation from the ‘norm’ than people say.
4. I was not immediately ‘in love’ with my bub
All of this was happening while I tried to navigate not just a new job, but a new normal. People love to say they’re ‘in love with their babies on Instagram, but if you get home and you have very little help or knowledge, there is nothing wrong with thinking, “what the hell did I get myself into?” – because that’s totally normal too, and it will pass.
What I wish I knew
I just wish I knew that it was called the ‘fourth trimester for a reason: my baby and I are still very much in the bubble together, so nothing else should matter. If I’d accepted that – just like labor and birth and pregnancy itself – a lot of it is out of my control so I don’t need to stress, I would have been in much better psychological shape.
Please, if you take one thing away from this article, understand that you don’t have to suffer through alone as I did. There is help everywhere – even here because Babyology is launching a free online event for all new mums and mums-to-be so you can get all your questions, (no matter how silly you might think they are, they aren’t!) answered LIVE by the wonderful experts from Parent School. Just click below to find out more.
Please, if you take one thing away from this article, understand that you don’t have to suffer through alone as I did. There is help everywhere – even here because Babyology is launching a free online event for all new mums and mums-to-be so you can get all your questions answered live by the wonderful experts from Parent School. Just click below to find out more.