Six Weeks Postpartum – I Did NOT Feel Back to “Normal”

Six weeks postpartum was that magical milestone when I expected to be back to feeling like myself. I had my final appointment with my midwife scheduled and was told I would likely be cleared to resume normal activity. I took that to mean that I would be able to do hard workouts and run again. I would be ready to have sex. I would fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes. I would be ready to work more hours. It would mark my full recovery from pregnancy. 

But, this is what six weeks postpartum was actually like for me. It still hurt to stand for more than an hour at a time. The most basic workouts caused pain in my abs and pelvic floor. I was still bleeding. I was trying to heal a prolapse and diastasis recti. I was wearing maternity clothes because nothing else fit. If I ate a big meal, I easily looked 8 months pregnant. My hair was falling out at an alarming rate. I was showering once a week. I was barely sleeping and having a hard time focusing on work. My breasts leaked milk all the time. My moods were all over the place.

Was I feeling strong, energetic, and back to normal? Not even close. The idea that six weeks postpartum would usher in some kind of return to normal life was one of the biggest misconceptions I had during pregnancy and early parenthood. 

Part of the problem for me was a poor definition of what getting “cleared” at my six-week appointment meant.  I thought it meant I was fully recovered and it was okay to push hard, so I did, and I paid the price. My pain didn’t improve, and my postpartum bleeding did not let up for three months. 

I am not trying to paint some gruesome, bleak picture of life after giving birth. But a real discussion about the intense impact that pregnancy and birth have on our bodies would have helped me to set healthier expectations and take it easy on a body that was falling apart.

With my second child, I permitted myself to take it slow and not “bounce back”. Instead of hoping to feel like myself again at 6 weeks postpartum, I aimed for a more realistic 12 months. Here are a few things that helped:

  • I traded any attempt at high-intensity workouts for gentle core engagement and breathing exercises to help my abs and pelvic floor slowly heal. If anything caused pain, I stopped. I recommend a physical therapist; it made all the difference for me.
  • I carefully worked on my strength, balance, and flexibility first. I decided I would not even attempt running (which I love to do and missed terribly) until five months postpartum, no matter how good I felt.
  • I refused to attend in-person meetings or work events for at least 16 weeks. My work wasn’t exactly thrilled with this decision, but despite the pushback, I was able to stay off of my feet and continue to work from home.
  • I was prepared more for what my body would go through. Books like The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson were very helpful.
  • I had some amazing people willing to be on call for last-minute babysitting long after those first six weeks. If I had an awful night with the baby or was just completely spent, I had someone to lean on (thank you, Grandma!).

I realize not everyone has the luxury of someone they can rely on for help or can make demands with regards to their work schedule. I am lucky to have flexibility and options in my postpartum experience. I did, however, encounter a lot of pushback from certain friends, colleagues and clients. 

I found myself swimming upstream as I tried to slow down while immersed in a culture screaming for me to do more. Just looking at the recent debates over mandated paid maternity leave shows that the message we are constantly fed is that birth shouldn’t require a great deal of time for recovery. We should do more and power through.

After those first six weeks, I was questioned for not doing more. Why wasn’t I going out with friends? Why was I not attending work events? Others shared stories about how fast they got in shape or were back to working full time after having a baby. It seemed like pushing yourself hard was worn as a badge of honor. Taking time for rest felt like a weakness and made me feel judged.

In retrospect, I am glad I dug in my heels and continued to seek out rest and recovery. Now at six months postpartum, I am still healing, but I feel better than the first time around. My abs and pelvic floor have recovered faster. I have had more ease and calm in my body, trusting that eventually, I will feel “normal”. 

 I wish when I had my first baby that I had viewed that six-week appointment as a milestone in the long path to recovery, rather than a finish line. I hope that those of us experiencing pregnancy and birth can have more reasonable expectations for ourselves and each other, while creating the space and time for rest and healing.

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