The Fourth Trimester
I bet you thought there were only three trimesters...well not many people talk about the fourth trimester which is the first 3 months after birth with your brand new baby where you are basically learning how to survive.
We are 7 weeks in now and it's definitely been a bit of a roller coaster figuring out this new life as a parent but I think Peter and I are doing pretty well at learning what works for us. The first 2 weeks were the hardest by far because I was terrified for both of us to be sleeping at the same time. At the time we were trying to have Xavier sleep in the bassinet in our room and long story short...none of us slept. My eyes would fly open at any and every sound or slight change in breathing that Xavier made so I learned very quickly that my paranoid mom brain was not going to let me get a lick of sleep as long as Xavier was in the room with me. However, it was also way too early for him to be sleeping alone in the crib in his room (which definitely would not have helped my paranoia either). So Peter and I came up with a game plan in the hopes that we could both get at least 6 hours of sleep a night.
8:00-11:00 PM: Peter slept in our room while I stayed in the family room with Xavier and had him sleep in the Pack n Play.
11:00-11:45 PM: Peter changed Xavier and I feed him then Peter takes him to his office to sleep in a different bassinet so that I can sleep in our room. In the beginning I wasn't comfortable with Peter sleeping during this time so the poor guy had to stay awake for my peace of mind but after a few weeks I became comfortable with him sleeping whenever he could.
2:30/3:30ish AM: Xavier would wake up somewhere between 2:30-3:30 to eat, so Peter would bring him to our room for me to feed him. Then Peter would take him back to his office and I would continue sleeping.
6:30/7:00ish AM: Xavier would wake up for the morning. I would take him downstairs and Peter would go back to sleep from 7:00-10:00ish AM.
The first several weeks I would also snag a 2 hour nap sometime in the afternoon if I could. This worked really well for us because luckily Peter has 15 weeks of parental leave so he was fine to take the night shift. I found it extremely difficult to be awake during the night hours in the beginning and I was terrified of falling asleep with him in my arms so that's how we decided who had which shifts. Peter used to work odd hours quite often so he was already used to be up in the wee hours of the night and I found it much easier to stay awake during daylight hours. However we are coming up on another change soon when we both return to work at the 3 month mark so we will need to readjust our routine to make that work which is going to be very interesting.
So that covers sleep, which is probably the most major first adjustment in the fourth trimester and it's a tough pill to swallow knowing that I have no idea when I will get an 8 hour stretch of sleep again. I'm super grateful that we figured out a routine that worked for us so quickly because both of being sleep deprived would have been a nightmare.
The second major piece of the fourth trimester is getting to know your baby. Other than having some sense of their active/sleep times based on movements while pregnant, they are essentially a stranger to you after they are born. There is so much to learn about what they need, their hunger and sleep cues, and battling mom guilt when you feel like you are failing as a parent. Postpartum depression was something I was really concerned about since I have struggled with depression on and off in the past. I even considered placenta encapsulation because I heard that it could help prevent postpartum depression but I ended up foregoing that. Luckily, I didn't end up experiencing postpartum depression but I definitely did have some trouble feeling connected to Xavier for the first couple of weeks after he was born. Don't get me wrong, I have never loved someone more in my entire life and I was so happy that he was finally hear but I also felt distant, overwhelmed, and I noticed that I would zone out a bit. I realized it was mostly due to sleep deprivation and also feeling guilty that I wasn't able to be the mom that I wanted to be and wasn't able to take care of him the way that I wanted to...which I will talk about next.
THE RECOVERY. Holy hell, my recovery was a million times worse than the actual birth and seeing as I gave birth without any pain relief, that is saying something. I am 7 weeks post partum and I have still not fully healed. Unfortunately since I was pushing for so long, I did get several second degree tears and several stitches. I've never had stitches in my life so the thought of them really freaked me out and I think I got in my head about it. I was afraid to move or do anything because I was afraid of popping a stitch. Plus it just plain hurt. No one seems to talk about how hard recovery after birth can be and I felt so useless. I constantly had to ask for help, I was basically bed ridden for the first couple weeks so I was also dealing with the soreness that comes from sitting in the same spot for so long. Walking hurt, coughing hurt, sneezing hurt, laughing hurt, peeing hurt...I'm not even going to talk about going #2. My back, hip, and core muscles were so weak that it hurt to stand for longer than 2 minutes and my pelvic floor felt like it was going to fall out of me. All of this meant it was super hard tending to Xavier, just the act of sitting up in bed to feed him was excruciating.
I also felt like I wasn't able to do all the fun newborn things that I wanted to do like his newborn shoot. I finally managed to get some shots in when he was 2 weeks old but I would have wanted to do it much earlier when he was easier to pose and even at 2 weeks I was too sore to do it for long and didn't get nearly all the poses that I wanted to. I wanted to be able to go on walks with him, or wear him in a wrap when he was really little, be able to change his diaper, all of that. But I couldn't and that was really hard on my mental health. The one positive about all of that was getting to watch Peter learn how to become a dad. He spent his nights awake listening to audiobooks about parenting and taking care of a newborn and would tell me what he learned every morning. It was so wonderful watching him dive in head first and it was amazing to see how much of a natural he became, and so quickly! I will forever be grateful for how supportive he was (and continues to be) during those first few weeks when I was a useless blob. But you're probably wondering...if I could handle natural childbirth, why was the recovery so hard with my pain tolerance? I think the answer to that is the length of time. During childbirth, you are so in the zone that the hours just fly by and next think you know, you've blinked and you have a tiny human in your arms. The hard part about the pain of healing is just how long it takes. Every day for 2 months? It weighs on you...and there is so much upkeep and things to do to manage the pain...remember to take your stool softeners, remember to use your peri bottle every time you use the washroom, oh don't forget to put on a new diaper and use a padsicle, time to do a sitz bath twice a day, make sure to get some air time to dry out, take some advil for the pain, don't forget your witch hazel pads. It's just a lot and feels like it's never going to end.
Not to mention the "2 steps forward, 1 step back" trajectory of healing. It seemed like as soon as one type of pain disappeared, a new one appeared, worse than the one before. The sometimes the previous pain would return and you'd be confused thinking "why does this hurt again, I thought that part was done?" and it makes you worry that something didn't heal properly...and I don't know about you but I was too damn scared to look. Anyways that is enough talk about the healing process but it's been the hardest part so far. I am finally almost feeling back to normal but I still get a lot of soreness if I am on my feet too long.
Lastly, you kind of lose your sense of bodily autonomy. This one doesn't affect me as much but I know it does for a lot of new moms. If you are breastfeeding or pumping, you feel like your body isn't yours anymore. Newborns eat so often that it feels like they are constantly on the boob and by the time they eat, get changed, and sleep, you blink and they are awake to eat again before you've even gotten a chance to feed yourself and pee. We are now at the point where he sometimes has longer naps and I don't even know what to do with myself because I am so used to tending to him 24/7. I got so used to only having time to scarf down some food, pee, and throw in a load of laundry that when I have extra time I'm not sure what to do lol. I personally love our breastfeeding journey so far though. I love that connection that we have and even though I sometimes just feel like a milk machine, I am super happy that it's gone well for us so far.
So that's the gist of the fourth trimester. Once you feel like you've got something figured out, he throws us a curve ball and then we have to start from square one, but it's been an incredible experience so far and I am so glad that Peter and I get to experience this newborn stage and learn how to be parents together. I expect many other bumps in the road to come but we will take it one day at a time.