The 4th trimester is the first 12 weeks after birth when mother + baby are both adjusting to baby’s life outside the womb. This is my experience!
April 24: Levi was born a little before 6am. I had less than two hours of sleep and just pushed a baby out of my body but I felt AMAZING. I was on a total adrenaline high. Throughout the day nurses asked about my pain level on a scale of 1-10 and I would respond with “um… 1, I guess?” because I didn’t really feel any pain. Just pure happiness. That day was a blur of visitors and baby snuggles and I would live it over and over again if I could.
Then night came.
The adrenaline faded and my body started crashing. I needed sleep. There were a few problems though…
1) I didn’t want to let myself fall asleep because I was terrified Levi would die from his swaddle blanket coming undone and covering his face (he was so tiny and helpless and the Internet does a good job scaring you about SIDS.)
2) I needed to feed him every 2-3 hours and had no idea what I was doing (neither did he…)
3) Nurses would come in every few hours to press on my stomach, check my bleeding, give me pills, etc etc. Their schedule was NOT synced with my feeding schedule so I was pretty much disturbed every hour. It felt like torture.
April 25: I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I went from telling the nurses my pain level was a 1 to asking when I would get my next motrin. I went from welcoming all the visitors to feeling grateful no one was stopping by. Justin and I had originally considered leaving the hospital this day (because I felt amazing that first day so why stay??) but medical staff had encouraged me to stay another night. We ended up staying because Levi needed some extra care. I was so grateful to stay another day!
April 26: the first day home. After 3 days in the same tiny hospital room, the outside world felt like a scary and foreign place. I was happy to be home but also felt a little deserted, like my safety belt was gone. Levi and I went from being monitored by medical professionals 24/7 to being at home with no one but each other + Justin.
I cried that first night at home because I was overwhelmed. Also because it felt so strange to not be pregnant. I didn’t necessarily miss being pregnant but this sudden change from ‘pregnant’ to ‘not pregnant’ felt hard to process. The thing that triggered this was being in my bed and not needing to sleep with my pregnancy pillow anymore. In that moment I realized my entire way of thinking was different. I didn’t need to pee every 30 minutes. I could eat all the cold deli meat in the world. And so on and so forth.
That first night at home was HORRIBLE. Levi was cluster feeding, meaning he was eating every hour, and it drove me CRAZY as I had been mostly awake for 3 days straight (now going on 4 days…) Out of desperation, I ended up sleeping with him in my arms.
The first week at home was a blur (really the entire 4th trimester has been a blur, but especially that first week.) I wore my breastfeeding nightgown 3 days in a row until Justin recommended I wash it. After that, I wore nothing but a nursing bra and underwear. Clothes were impractical as I was breastfeeding constantly. I would only put something on if I had to, aka if someone was coming over or if I was leaving the house. I stayed in bed until noon or 1pm every day, breastfeeding and sleeping when I could. At one point I cried to Justin because I dreaded going to bed at night. Waking up every 2 to 3 hours and staying up for 45 minutes each time will do that to you.
There were mornings I forgot to brush my teeth (something I never do!)
Six days after Levi was born I wrote in an email, “I limp when I walk, use a squirt bottle to wash my private parts (instead of wiping), have tired/achy muscles (from pushing during labor), feel constantly tired, and my breasts are SO SORE.”
More than once I thought, “I have to go through all this (pregnancy, labor, recovery, breastfeeding) AGAIN???” My pediatrician promised I would forget how hard it is and eventually want another kid. I wanted to believe her, but it was a bit too soon (it had only been 5 days at that point…)
By the end of the first week, I was hit with the baby blues. I would cry for no reason and was sensitive, irritable and overwhelmed. Justin was also exhausted and overwhelmed, so we snapped at each other a LOT. At one point I threatened to take Levi and run away because I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, not even Justin. I remember thinking ‘so this is why they say having kids puts a strain on your marriage…’
I jotted down the following notes on my phone days 8 and 10 postpartum:
Day 8: got out of the house for the first time since we came home from the hospital (with the exception of a pediatrician appt). Body feeling the best it has since delivery. Less blood, less pain, though I still limp. Emotionally, I’m crying over small things and getting upset with Justin. Came home from outing and collapsed on the couch bc it wore me out (no doubt bc I barely slept last night…) Went to bed early bc I couldn’t stay up. Really want to write my birth story blog but I just don’t know when… feels like there is no time or energy to do anything but sleep, breastfeed, and survive.
Day 10: the best I’ve felt so far physically – very little pain overall. Little to no limp. Barely any blood. Still super tired (even makeup can’t hide it…) Emotionally, didn’t cry today (I don’t think I did yesterday either) but still feel easily annoyed with Justin and like I have no energy for anyone. All I want to do is lie on the couch and watch tv or sleep. Ended up going to Daniel Chantlos’ for dinner (instead of him bringing it here) and that was nice to get out of the house and chat on his porch. Probably the most normal I’ve felt since birth. P.S. cried after I wrote this…
In terms of physical pain and feeling emotionally fragile, those first 2 weeks were the worst. They were also the best. I felt incandescently happy, like being a mom to this baby boy was fulfilling in a way I didn’t know possible. Everyone says your child grows up so fast and I felt that very deeply – especially about the newborn stage. I couldn’t get enough baby snuggles!
As the weeks went on I was less emotionally fragile but continued to have zero emotional energy for anyone but Levi. Having guests over or leaving the house left me completely wiped.
By week 3 Justin was back at work. I started going for daily walks in the afternoon – up to two miles a day. A new bubble tea place opened in Gainesville, so I would get a bubble tea and go to my favorite park with Levi. It was during these walks I reconnected with God. The physical and emotional had dominated those first few weeks. Finally, I was finding my center again.
Throughout the weeks I found myself obsessed with all things baby related (pregnancy and postpartum Instagram accounts, birth stories, baby registries, Call the Midwife on Netflix, and so on.) For a hot minute, I wondered if I wanted to be a midwife because of how much I loved my birth experience.
At 5 weeks postpartum I wrote, “This week has been a lot better (literally every day/week just keeps getting better so YAY.) Justin and I feel more in sync again.”
Then June came.
June meant my maternity leave would soon be over (my first day back in the office was July 1st.) The idea of going back to work brought me an alarming amount of anxiety. I was sick to my stomach over it. Losing sleep over it. Wanting to run away over it. I Googled “postpartum anxiety” and took an online quiz to see if I had it. Everything I read about postpartum anxiety had to do with worrying about your baby. I wasn’t worried about my baby. I was worried about going back to work. I couldn’t fathom the thought of being separated or distracted from Levi while he was still so young and breastfeeding all the time. It felt like the most unnatural thing in the world. This anxiety made everything else in life seem daunting – even the good things!
I started making daily gratitude lists (aka focusing on what I did have instead of what I felt like was going to be taken from me) but that didn’t work. I emailed my mom (a retired psychiatrist) and asked what my options would be in terms of natural supplements or medication while breastfeeding to help with my anxiety because I felt like I couldn’t control it.
My friend Betty came over one night in the middle of June and I sobbed and sobbed to her. I told her July 1st felt like a tornado I could see in the distance and with each passing day it got closer and closer to taking me out.
On top of that, my cat was missing and someone I know had a full-term stillborn baby. My cat added to my anxiety and the stillborn baby grieved me to my core. Life felt scary and out-of-control.
My anxiety brought me tears, but so did God’s grace. The same night I sobbed to Betty about going back to work I also sobbed to her about how God made Levi come a week early because He knew I would struggle and wanted to give me more time (July 1st was my first day back at the office no matter when Levi was born.)
On June 27 (four days before I started back at the office), I realized that in addition to postpartum hormones, my anxiety was tied to a lack of trust in God. I started meditating on Psalm 121, which talks about how God loves watching over us. I loveeee watching my son sleep (I’ll just stare at the monitor like I’m watching a movie or something) so I thought about how God must love watching over me and how “he won’t let my foot slip” (also from Psalm 121.) From that point on, when I felt my anxiety rise I would recite that line over and over again, “He won’t let my foot slip. He won’t let my foot slip. He won’t let my foot slip.”
The next day I wrote, “just felt a wave of something akin to hope.”
The day after that: “This morning I had more anxiety about going back to work. But I also had a burst of hope that it would all work out and be OK. Which has to be from the Lord.”
July 1st came. I was 9 weeks and 5 days postpartum. A friend sent me a back-to-work Starbucks gift card. My team got me welcome back flowers. The day flew by. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, I actually found myself liking it. Being a mom fulfilled me in ways I didn’t know possible, but having a purpose beyond Levi also felt fulfilling.
On July 2nd I wrote: “Being back at work feels ‘right’ (which is obviously amazing considering my anxiety), though the last two days have left me WIPED. Like want-to-go-to-bed-at-5:30 wiped (…but I can’t because I have to breastfeed, of course.) I don’t know how working mamas do it. I am working from home tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier!!”
My first 3 weeks back at the office were full force, aka the preparation and execution of my biggest event of the year, Gap Year Training Camp (over 200 participants showing up on campus!) Long days, no weekends off. I strapped Levi to me in the afternoons and went on with my business.
One time a coworker and I got into it about things that were going wrong. We raised our voices at each other as I bounced Levi to keep him asleep, which is a pretty funny image to me now. Because of turnover, behind-the-scenes details were crumbling. I did my best to manage but one day, toward the end of camp, I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. Pre-baby, I would have cried and then composed myself and moved on. But I could tell my hormones were affecting me and I couldn’t quite get it together. Thankfully, eventually, I did. It’s a strange feeling though, having hormones affect you and not being able to manage them because it’s not something you can just ‘will’ your way out of.
My 4th trimester ended shortly after camp did. 12 weeks. I made it.
It’s been almost a month since then, and I’m glad to say I continue to feel more and more like myself. I’ve started reading again. Working out at the gym. Being intimate with my husband. Writing blogs at coffee shops (my current status…)
Sometimes my anxiety still gets triggered. When that happens I make a gratitude list and remind myself “He won’t let my foot slip…”
Writing this blog brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how hard the hard days were and how real my anxiety felt. At the same time, I will always remember the unexpected, all-consuming, extraordinary bliss I experienced those first 12 weeks.
That first night at home I cried because I was overwhelmed, the second night I cried because I was so grateful. There were countless nights I spent 20 minutes scrolling through pictures of Levi on my phone even though he was two feet away in his bassinet. I would often stay up after breastfeeding in the middle of the night to stare at him in my arms, happy tears dripping down my face. By the time I weaned him off his last middle of the night feeding, I found myself sad to no longer have those sacred moments with him.
It’s been a wild ride of ups and downs since April 24. I find myself viewing my life as B.C. (before childbirth) and after. Having this little one changed everything – my body, my emotions, my time, my priorities. It hasn’t always been easy but I would do it over and over and over and over again.
Who knew such a little person could bring me so much joy.