Ok, friends, let’s talk about postpartum recovery. If I’m honest, it’s something that I dreaded when I was pregnant. Perhaps that’s what I was actually scared of, the recovery rather than the birth. Who knows! All I do know is that I read everything I could on how to cope with all the physical side effects of giving birth, but hardly anything on the emotional rollercoaster it can send you on. Following my last blog post on Evie’s birth, I hope that this post gives some insight into my own experiences of postpartum recovery, both physically and emotionally.
I was in the hospital for 5 days after Evie was born. For the first 3 nights, Evie wasn’t with me on the ward, which was both a blessing and a curse. Following her birth, I want to say that I was exhausted, but exhausted doesn’t really cover it. I was tired, groggy, scared, physically sore and completely confused. I was one of four women (and their newborn babies) in my room on the ward. By not having Evie with me, it gave me a chance to get some much needed rest following her birth, but what felt really strange and quite upsetting was being surrounded by women who had their new babies beside them. Not only that, they would be in the room for one night and the next day they were on their way home. I was so disappointed. That was the type of scenario I had wanted for myself and I’m sure it’s what any expectant mother would want; a straightforward birth, one night in the hospital to make sure Mama and baby are well and then off home as a new family. I felt robbed of that experience.
We’re not exactly sure how it happened, whether it was the episiotomy or the emergency c-section, but I lost just under 2 litres of blood during the birth. It meant that my iron levels were really low. There aren’t that many photos of me in the hospital, but those that I do have, I look ridiculously pale and have really dark circles around my eyes. It meant that I felt really tired and weak. So when I wanted to see Evie, a nurse had to get a wheelchair and wheel me to the special care unit.
Evie joined me on the ward after 3 nights in the NICU/SCBU and after two nights together, we went home. I remember going home and feeling as though time had stopped while I was in hospital. I had been in a little bubble. Then, suddenly, when we came out, I had this realisation that everything had carried on as normal for everyone else.
I remember getting home and needing to go upstairs to our bedroom and it dawned on me that I hadn’t walked up stairs in almost a week. My mum helped me and when I got to the top, I just had this outburst of emotion. I cried my eyes out and remember saying, ‘I feel like I’m broken.’
The first few days at home were just a blur. I remember the midwife coming to see us and the health visitor, too, but I couldn’t tell you what they talked to me about. It was the usual new-born phase of endless (or what seemed like endless!) feeding, changing and sleeping (or lack of!). Evie was not an easy baby (are any babies easy?!) and cried a lot. The poor little thing got bad wind and it seemed like nothing would settle her. Our health visitor suggested putting her on a comfort milk, which helped, but I just remember those first few months being really, really hard.
I feel as though I’ve always lived with some level of anxiety. My career prior to being a Mum was in performing, so there was always some anxiety about auditions, performance nerves or where the next job was coming from. The anxiety I began to feel after having Evie though was different. This was something that I felt on a daily basis. I woke up with it, couldn’t sleep because of it and it made me super protective of Evie. I worried endlessly about when she should be fed, when she should be asleep and how long for. I felt this huge responsibility to be the only person that should take care of her, or settle her. It made going out seem impossible as I got anxiety about her needing a feed while we were gone or worried about her screaming the entire time we were out.
There were some days when the anxiety was just too much. I felt emotional and more importantly, I just didn’t feel like “me” anymore. Babies are so sensitive and I’m positive that Evie’s fussiness came, in part, from the nervous energy she was picking up off of me. We were in a vicious cycle and at the time I just couldn’t see a way out.
I was fortunate to have a fantastic health visitor who checked in on me regularly to see how I was feeling. She referred me to a therapy service via the NHS, but it took 9 months for me to start seeing someone on a regular basis. I am the biggest fan of the NHS, but that made me feel incredibly let down by it. I was (and still am) very lucky to have an amazing family and support network around me, but what if someone else didn’t have that, needed help and had to wait like I did for it?
Over time, the “fog” began to clear and the anxiety would only surface now and again. It sounds awful to say, but it took time for me to enjoy being a Mum, to stop resenting what motherhood had taken away from me and to, instead, realise the amazing thing it had given.
A huge part of my anxiety came from constantly looking back to Evie’s birth. We wanted answers for Evie and the health issues she was dealing with, but I too had problems related to the birth that I wanted answers for. With every doctors appointment, I had to re-tell and re-live what happened and it was emotionally exhausting.
I decided to have a de-brief on Evie’s birth with a consultant midwife at the hospital. They basically take you through the entire birth and what happened, minute by minute. As we went through, I had a lot of questions as to what happened and why that the midwife felt she couldn't answer. She suggested an appointment with my own consultant, who performed my c-section, and an appointment with the head of neonatal for Evie.
It took some time to see my consultant, but when I did she examined me and told me she believed I had some nerve damage down below. I was also having some discomfort on the left side of my pelvis, which at the time she thought was all related to the nerve damage. I was put on a course of medication and told to come back in 12 weeks. The medication seemed to be working, but I was still getting this discomfort on the left side of my pelvis. I’d already had a scan which came back clear, so at my follow up appointment, she said the symptoms I was describing were akin to endometriosis. It was one of those “let’s see how you get on” kind of conversations, but she was happy to refer me back to my GP.
Evie is now a year old and I am still battling with pain related to her birth. The medication worked for a while and then the pain returned again. Some of you may have recently seen me having a rant on my Instagram stories, as I tried to get another appointment with my consultant. I was understandably frustrated after being told it would be a two month wait to be seen. That appointment is now about a month or so away.
I don’t know how to execute it, but I feel quite strongly that there should be more ongoing support for new mothers. My health visitor in the early days with Evie was amazing, but with someone else at her 12 month assessment, I left feeling overwhelmed and like I had no idea what I was doing. There are plenty of check ups for the babies, but surely the Mamas need some checking in on as well?
If I figure out how to make it happen, I will be sure to let you all know! Likewise, if anyone already has the answer, please reach out in the comments!
I have been so fortunate to find an amazing community of support via Instagram, with so many accounts of mothers supporting mothers. Social media needs more of that; more of the realities of motherhood and more parents that let new parents know, “It’s ok, we’ve been there and we’re all in this together.”
If there’s anything left to be said, it’s that the events over the last year were really hard, but they were worth every minute to have this amazing little girl in my life. I am so lucky that I get to be her Mama. There are days that can be really tough, but that’s what strong coffee is for, right?
Little Evie & Me xx