“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 childbirth—perhaps even more sacred."
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!
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.
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.
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.