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The 4th trimester struggle is real

Everything explodes: your heart with love, your mind with this new reality, and your body with— well, a baby.

The 4th trimester struggle is real

“The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirthperhaps even more sacred."
—Joy Kusek


A dear friend shared this quote with me about two weeks after I came home with my newborn baby.

My heart was grasping for something, anything, that could help me define what the heck was going on with everything around and within me. This woman's words defined this sweet and difficult season so perfectly. I became a mother by title when the test turned up positive. I looked like a mother-to-be for the better part of nine months. But I wasn't a mother in my core—yet.

The fourth trimester (giving birth and the few first months afterward) is a crash course, sink-or-swim, best thing ever but ohmygosh-it's-hard introduction to motherhood.

Everything explodes: your heart with love, your mind with this new reality, and your body with, well, a baby. As daunting as that sounds, let me reassure you: You will pass the course. You will swim. You won't sink. And you would not give up this season for the world, even if it comes with tears, hormones and hemorrhoids.


Here's what you can expect in the 4th trimester. Know you're not alone in this, mama!

Body

This is pretty straightforward: You are sore. Whether your baby came down the standard exit chute or he was air-lifted from your tummy in a recon-style C-section, there is a large part of you that is very, very sore.

Your stomach collapses a little bit but it is no longer a firm, busting-with-baby tummy. It's squishy. Maybe even wrinkly. Your boobs start bursting with milk and, if you are small-chested like I am, you found yourself thinking, “Ooh, this is why my friend with huge boobs wears two sport bras—this hurts!"

You are also swollen. Your face, your feet, your hands. You will look at photos of yourself at the hospital and wonder why everything about you looks so round. You will look at yourself in the mirror and fight back tears because sexy is not being brought back any time soon.

Oh, so much about you is different. But hear this—you probably won't notice any of it all that much.

Before baby, you had plenty of time to look in the mirror and identify all the ways you weren't perfect.

But with a baby, you just intrinsically know that your time is better spent soaking in all that's perfect about them: their tiny toes, sweet, gummy smiles and unbelievably soft skin. Plus, that squishy belly makes a perfect place to rest your dear one.

Mind

A few days after we got home from the hospital, my husband found me bawling my eyes out over our baby as I was changing her. “What's wrong!?" he asked, new-daddy panic creeping into his voice. “What are we going to do if our daughter is bullied in school?" I sobbed. “Or if she's the bully? And oh my gosh—what are we going to do when she starts driving?!" I cried, convinced that I had to solve each of these problems at that very second or I would fail as a mother.

He was really quiet for a moment and then gently responded, “Babe, I know we'll handle all of those things when we get there. Could we tackle this diaper rash first?"

All of a sudden, you get why your own mother freaked out when she saw you bolt near a busy street. Or why she turned off the TV when the subject matter got dicey. If you were the type to laugh at friends who insisted on eating farm-fresh non-GMO, organic, practically-still-covered-in-dirt veggies, now you are the type giving the side-eye to anything not from Whole Foods.

Anxiety and fear can paralyze you as you consider all the ways this world is big, bad and scary—and how your sweet, precious baby is about to grow up within it. This can feel absolutely overwhelming.

I promise you that your mind quiets down and you will eventually feel that you can conquer the shadows that feel so dark and colossal.

Heart

Mama, your heart will hurt. And it hurts because a large part of you is dying.

It's the part that was able to put you first. The you before you had a baby.

You will feel selfish when the baby is crying but all you want to do is stay in bed. You will feel pangs of sadness when you see a group of girlfriends getting brunch or a couple with no kids taking an impromptu vacation. The things we hold so dear—our own time, our own bodies, our desires—will be sacrificed for the sake of another.

It is such a worthy sacrifice. But it's not easy.

A mother's heart-change doesn't happen like a light switch. It is forged in the sleepless nights, in the sweet coos, in the colicky crying, in the moments where this crazy instinct kicks in and you know exactly what to do. It happens when you make sure your baby is okay and you think about yourself later. It happens when the baby needs to nurse again and you act on his need rather than your desire to keep your shirt on. It happens when your heart bursts with pride as you introduce your daughter to your family and friends (even though she just spit up on your shirt). It happens when you experience FOMO as you scroll your Instagram feed but then drop your phone and forget about all of it when you see that your baby needs you.

And slowly, especially during this fourth trimester, you find that the core of who you are has been redefined and restructured. And you love it more than you could possibly imagine. You would never go back, even if you could.

You learn to give yourself grace in the hard moments and how to soak in the sweet ones.

Can I give you some advice? Soak it all in while you can. The rest of us mamas are sorta-kinda jealous of you right now (although you are having moments of “When does chaos this end?!"), and we're thinking about having another one just to go back to that time.

Welcome to your new normal, dear friend. I promise that it will begin to just feel normal (rather than new) very, very soon.

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In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    Rae Wellness is a women-led company with the belief that nurturing your mind and body isn't just essential—it's your power. Their collection of daily supplements leverage vegan, non-gmo, high quality ingredients to help you "shine from the inside out." With formulas to designed to fuel your calm, sleep, energy and more, consider them your daily dose of self care, mama. Even better, 5% of every purchase goes directly to Girls. Inc., the non-profit organization that inspires girls to be strong, smart and bold through direct service and advocacy.

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    Whether you're lounging or lunging, the butter-soft activewear from Beyond Yoga is designed to support women to live fully and confidently. Their thoughtful, California made pieces are crafted with every woman's shape in mind, complementing curves and laying comfortably on all body types.

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    Milkful: The Dairy Fairy's size inclusive sister company

    Part of the Dairy Fairy's mission was to create a line of nursing and pumping bras that would make women feel comfortable and confident. Since launching in 2012, Emily heard from many women of different shapes and sizes, asking, "why doesn't this come in my size?" Adding sizes to the line didn't quite feel like enough. Instead, she set out to create an entirely new way to support their specific needs during such an important time in their lives. Thus, Milkful's line of size inclusive nursing and pumping intimates was born.

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