Postpartum bleeding is kind of like landing the job of your dreams and getting a temporary office facing the dumpster. After forty long weeks, your tiny human has arrived and you have your hands and heart full… oh, and your footlong hospital-grade pad. In addition to shedding what seems like the entirety of your uterus for the first six weeks of motherhood, the year after giving birth is a journey through and into your new body with new functions and fluctuations. From nipple tears to maxi pads, mom life is without a doubt a job meant for warriors.
Prior to giving birth, postpartum bleeding wasn’t on my radar. I was consumed with thoughts of labor, contractions, epidurals, birthing positions, breastfeeding, episiotomies, delayed cord clamping, and every first-time mother’s fear: pooping while pushing. I was in labor for nearly four days and wound up undergoing an emergency c-section due to my daughter’s heart rate plummeting to worrisome numbers.
The morning after my surgery, everything was hazy. I didn’t anticipate or even consider a c-section. I had planned and prepared for a natural childbirth, a sentiment most c-section mothers can relate to. I fully expected to be walking around, iced orange juice in hand, cracking jokes and ordering my own large cheese pizza. Every woman in my family popped out babies like it was a brisk jaunt on a Sunday afternoon, so waking up the morning after felt like walking into a final exam that I hadn’t prepared for. I can still hear the rumble and hiss of my pneumatic compression stockings (to regulate blood pressure). In addition to my numb, yellow-stained abdomen, my OB had inserted a catheter prior to surgery, so any sense of my body or its usual urges and processes was entirely lost. My first few days as a mother were spent horizontally, requiring someone to bring my daughter to me every time she cried.
I naively assumed that I would bleed less because I didn’t have a watermelon tear through my vagina. Alas, a uterus must still shed all of the cushy tissue it miraculously created to grow and nurture new life. I will never forget the first time I used the bathroom after my catheter was removed. As it was also the first time I had peeled myself from a reclined position, there was an instantaneous rush of blood. I could feel it travel from my swollen uterus and pool between my legs. With my arm clinging to the nurse’s shoulder, I returned to stand and peered down at the bowl of deep crimson liquid beneath me. I’m not sure why, but I was shocked.
My flow was unbelievably heavy for ten days. I passed clots the size of the palm of my hand, some of which had me calling my mother for reassurance that I wasn’t going to die. Breastfeeding while bleeding was an incredible display of the intelligence of the female body. Each time Fallon would latch on, it would trigger a surge of oxytocin (also known as the happy and/or mothering hormone) causing my uterus to contract and subsequently a gush of blood would follow. The heavy bleeding was followed by what I would consider the equivalent of a normal period that lasted for two weeks. The next two weeks consisted of medium to light spotting and, thankfully, very little pain. In case you’re wondering, yes. Bleeding for six weeks straight is hella irritating; especially when caring for a helpless newborn, running off of coffee and protein bars, and healing from major abdominal surgery.
Bleeding aside, the transition from “me” to “mom” presents a slew of massive bodily changes and challenges that deserve recognition as we go through many of them with a maxi pad between our legs. Nothing could have prepared me for the day my milk came in. I went from a perky, perfectly round pre-pregnancy B-cup to boobs that were literally bigger than my six pound child … each. Wide, purple stretch marks tore through my skin and indicated that I would never again see my underboob-less chest. Fallon went through a nursing strike at eight weeks old, at which point I chose to pump exclusively. The initial days of breastfeeding were glorious; lots of oxytocin, skin-to-skin bonding, sweet baby smell right under my nose. It was heaven … then the nipple blisters joined the party. The good thing about nipple blisters is they comes and go in seven to ten days. The bad thing about nipple blisters is they return in the form of nipple tears when you chose to enlist the help of an electronic milk vacuum that stretches your nipples to at least two inches long … not so much oxytocin happening there. Just as I expected to roar through a natural child birth, I also anticipated that something as natural as breastfeeding would come … well, naturally. I found that just because our bodies were created to do these specific things doesn’t always mean it’s going to happen that way. This realization took me a very, very long time to accept, own as my reality, and most importantly, honor myself as a mother anyways.
Blood clots, nipple blisters, and counting my days in dirty diapers didn’t do much for my postpartum libido. I know, I know. Weird, right? Believe it or not, it’s hard to feel like a sensual love goddess when you’re wiping tiny butt cheeks and dodging vomit all day. Not to mention, c-section recovery underwear and panty shields definitely don’t put you on the fast track to self-confidence (THINX would have been a life and sensuality saver). I had given up on finding the time to shave my legs, my estrogen levels tanked making intercourse unbearably painful, and I was averaging four to six hours of sleep per night broken into one to two-hour increments… Remember when I said motherhood is meant for warriors?
As I wrap this up and reflect on the struggle and the strength it took to make it through the first year, my daughter falls into my arms, plants a slobbery kiss on my lips, and nuzzles her head into the crook of my neck and it all comes full circle. This is motherhood. These tiny humans make the blood, sweat, and tears worth every last drop.