In pregnancies, nobody really talked much about the fourth trimester, the 3 month(ish) period immediately proceeding after giving birth. but those who have talked to me about the fourth trimester have consistently emphasized how difficult and painful it is – as if it’s a black nebulous pain in the ass (literally). Imagine all of the physical pain down there of pushing with everything a woman has (7ish pounds) compounded by uncertainties, the lack of sleep, and notorious crying. And hell, I wanted to curl up and cry – especially after thinking things would “get better” when they weren’t and moving Cassian from place to place added 30ish minutes onto our schedule while I still forgot his pacifier or baby bottle.
From the hospital, I was relieved that 1 hour of pushing led to an alien-ish looking like yet sweet healthy baby. But I was thrown off by how within seconds, my body transformed from a crazy machine into a mom with her own human being to grow and protect. Within seconds from when he was inside me, I embraced him against me skin-to-skin. Aside from losing bowls of blood that Oly claimed “looked like red paint” I literally fainted because of the blood loss and how exhausted my body was by 8pm. From feeling slightly ashamed of getting the epidural, I was very self-conscious about recovery (when can I urinate or walk by myself again?) and feared every time a nurse inserted a catheter in me to drain my urine. That whole experience with my first moments of breastfeeding made me feel really objectified. The following 2 nights/3 days were a total blur, and when our night nurse offered to assist us when we needed it, we milked it by pressing the call button almost every 2 hours, deliriously handing him over to calm him down so we can close our eyes for 5 more minutes. Leaving the hospital was so emotional for me that I cried waving goodbye to nurses who were my heroes that cared for and equipped us. (Going home was initially scary to me, but relieving to help me accustom back to reality)
Aside from all that ongoing physical pain for the following 2 months, I was obsessed with getting things done and was crushed that the recovery process held me back. I assumed that a 3 month of maternity leave was plenty of time to get all these dream things done: to “finally” get my cookbook self-published/printed, decide on a kitchen island, work on my blog, paint a picture of Bagel, get Cassian’s room more organized and cute with a Little Prince mural (Pinterest ready) and plan his 100th day birthday (more Pinterest ready)
It really hit me on my trip to IKEA a few weeks later with Oly that I had to lie to myself that I was fine. While I was wearing the thickest adult pads (literally size 2 diapers) and an ice pack, I felt too proud to even take more painkillers. I was disappointed in myself for not doing more yoga. The cramps were almost unbearable to a point that I was cringing, leaning over the shopping cart, and silently crying when Oly asked if I wanted to go back home. The daily routines were practically tearing my soul: up by 330am, nurse 30 min sessions, 1 hr of pumping, neverending cradling/diaper changing. and handing back/forth with Oly. Everything was planned in 90 min blocks since any activities were sandwiched between nursing sessions.
Nobody told me babies had to be fed every 2 hours for 30 minutes.
No matter how many family/visitors came in/out, I was lonelier than ever with the immense pain in my most intimate parts and not partaking in my usual activities and hangouts. I regretted googling when the average time of postpartum recovery was because I compared myself and felt terrible from all the articles (just like I regretted looking down at my vag when my nurse told me not to). The physical recovery and hormone shifts are very real; PPD is no damn joke, as I sometimes felt so disconnected from my body and just stared out the windows (or Cassian) and felt empty. The intermittent cramps and incessant crying were blanketed by moments of seeing him relaxed though. And this is what I yearned for – to be a loving mother. I told myself it wasn’t okay for me to feel crappy about myself since I am a privileged mother with a healthy son.
Breastfeeding was something I was very self-conscious in doing (what if he doesn’t like the way I’m trying to nurse him, what if he doesn’t look comfortable and people are judging how I’m holding him? what if I’m not producing enough milk? ..I guess I have to nurse every 1.5 hrs until he’s a year old because there’s this awful formula shortage..) but I am so thankful for Oly consistently reminding me that it was fine if I skipped/didn’t want to do it. My first few days of breastfeeding included painful engorgement, which motivated me to just keep nursing/pumping or my breasts would get infected.
While Bagel was initially shy and probably confused by this loud roommate in our household, Bagel has become a true MVP; he’s comforted me tremendously by following us wherever Cassian went, patiently sitting by me while I nursed Cassian. We had a handful of moments seeing breastmilk projectile motion all over the place – first spraying on a crying Cassian face, then spilling on the floor for Bagel to slowly walk to and slurp up.
Not everything was awfully dark and miserable. In the midst of running from a shower to nurse a crying Cassian (because of letdowns and leaks), Bagel would jog up our stairs and plop by my nursing chair. As I rocked back and forth, I’d look over Cassian’s head and smile with Bagel sitting by me until I was done feeding no matter how long I took, no matter if I fell asleep (yes, I nursed and fell asleep in a rocking chair dozens of times). Hands down, dogs are the best. Bagel totally deserved his own little watercolor portrait.
I shifted my schedule to be broken into 90-minute blocks unless baby Cassian is cluster feeding (literally eating back to back because of growth spurts) Morning and bedtime routines have shifted:
Day: 7/7:30 wake up, open curtains, unswaddle, feed, pump, sanitize, get properly dressed, morning walk to the park with Bagel)
Night: 7:30 Our Hatch (white noise machine) turns on to a lullaby, we close the curtains, change his clothes to a long sleeve onesie, sway him, place him in his crib, and offer a pacifier if he’s fussy)
Traditionally in Chinese/Taiwanese cultures, new mothers practice a confinement period where she doesn’t leave the home for 30-45 days to recover. However, me being the big extrovert and socially struggling from the pandemic, it was important for me to go outside (sometimes with Cassian for him to be exposed to the fresh air and trees) which included morning walks to the park/docks with Bagel, drives to see my dad in Hacienda Heights, and even glamping in Ramona to celebrate our anniversary (parents really need their own time). After walking became much more comfortable and I was able to have bowel movements much more regularly, I slowly incorporated jogs and made sure I took appropriate breaks so that I could enjoy exercising again. Going to the beach never felt so heavenly.
Throughout my years, I was embarrassed for all the mothers who had to take care of crying/restless babies and children, I’ve learned to empathize more than ever with infants and parents (babies were in a warm, cozy womb, then have to be opened up into a terrifying world with huge changes every day on top of the wet mustardy poop up against their ass they don’t know how to get rid of). Also, how terrifying would it be for an infant to fall asleep and wake up in a Walmart? I’ve learned how much goes into parenting, especially for breastfeeding moms.
Having a baby during this pandemic certainly sucks and is lonelier than ever, but I’m so grateful to catch up with parents (esp moms) that I was familiar with and meet moms off of the Peanut app. I have a whole new respect for moms, dads, and parents in general. Even though I was so anxious about returning back to my full-time job- I realized that being a mom is the most satisfying job I could ever enjoy. Truly, no matter how many cries, lack of sleep, and energy Cassian has demanded from me, I’m in love with our upgraded family.