The fourth trimester. Three words I had heard thrown about throughout my pregnancy; words I had read about in the pregnancy books; words I had seen mentioned endlessly in posts on Instagram, accompanied usually by a photograph of a postpartum mother; her hair scraped into a signature probably due a wash ‘mum-bun’, sat in her large maternity knickers and nursing bra, fashioned with a breast pump and a half eaten bagel, or to that effect. That picture is usually styled to high-heavens, staged to look candid and yet far too aesthetically pleasing to represent the actual reality. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know what it really was.
In October 2022, after a long battle with infertility and numerous cycles of IVF, we finally welcomed our little boy. My pregnancy had surprised me; whilst I felt so much love towards this unknown little human growing inside me, I felt disconnected when discussing the birth. I confused people when I explained this; I felt like it was happening to somebody else. Whenever I discussed my birth options or when I was asked how I felt about giving birth, the answer was always the same: it isn’t phasing me. I have a low pain threshold, and I almost lost my mother during my sister’s birth. Prior to pregnancy, the idea of giving birth myself always made me feel uneasy, and yet here I was fast approaching the biggest day of my life, and I just felt nothing. I was excited to meet my baby; I knew I was growing a baby – I was starting to resemble a Weeble, and every day I could feel this little person kicking constantly, and yet I still felt I was talking about someone else whenever I spoke about the events that were to follow. I expected to have my baby, and then feel everything. I expected to be in this blissful newborn bubble; to look at my baby and instantly feel everything I’d ever imagined feeling. I expected the sleepless nights to feel like a hazy, beautiful daze, and that I would look at my baby at 3am, not bothered that I hadn’t slept in days because it was all I’d ever wanted. Every scan, every injection, every egg collection and every tear shed was leading up to these moments, and so even when it was hard, I wouldn’t mind.
That simply wasn’t the case.
I came home with my baby less than 6 hours after giving birth. I was in hospital for 5 days leading up to the birth and suddenly there I was stood in my living room, my back sore from the epidural, my brain mush from the lack of sleep, knowing the pain that was to come if I so much as tried to sit down. I was scared to move in case I ripped my stitches, nervous to use the bathroom and experience the wincing sting that comes with it, constantly checking the blood hadn’t soaked through, terrified of this tiny little 6lb baby I held in my arms. Every time he cried, I could feel my body tense in its entirety and start to sweat. With clammy hands I would often cry too, and in those first moments I had no idea how I was ever going to cope. This wasn’t how I expected to feel.
Within hours we had family coming to visit, and with every ‘how are you?’, I felt myself tear up. Scared to say, ‘I don’t actually know’ and instead smiled, choking on the tears I knew were coming, “I can’t believe he’s finally here.”. I will always remember my Dad calling me a few hours later, asking how I was, and I couldn’t hold it back. I could barely speak because if I did I’d be crying hysterically – was this normal? Was I just simply exhausted? He came by that evening, and as he left he hugged me so tight, and as though he knew exactly how I was feeling and what I was thinking, he promised me I would be okay, that it will be alright, and I’ll find my feet in no time. It will all come, and it will be everything I wanted. I hung onto those words like they were the edge of a cliff as I dangled over the edge.
I look back at those first few weeks and understand the newborn bubble truly did exist. Each day blurred into one; sleep became a thing of the past. We lived off freezer food, meals other people had brought us and takeaway. Showers became a luxury, and my baby was so tiny and so precious. I would spend hours just looking at him, in those silent hours in the middle of the night when it felt like the whole world was asleep except us, as he would sleep on my chest and I would fight to keep my eyes open, kissing his head. I put so much pressure on myself to get out and about; my husband went back to work after just a week and so I made a point of making plans every single day. I absolutely utilised the baby carrier and our baby wearing sling, and despite no pressure from my husband at all, I had put this immense amount of pressure on myself internally to get as much done as possible. The dog needed walking; he couldn’t come home to a messy house; I’d want to have started dinner. A whole list of things I’d try and do, or people I would try and see, just to prove I was capable. There was no need. I deeply regret not spending those first few weeks under the duvet, letting the world go by whilst I soaked up my baby in private. Those weeks were so precious; I wish I had kept them for just us.
Our feeding journey wasn’t straightforward. I had been so determined to exclusively breastfeed, but for a never ending list of reasons why, it didn’t go to plan. For those first three months postpartum, my whole life was devoted to feeding my baby, and the constant challenges we faced did nothing but cloud it. I don’t believe I had postnatal depression at all, but I do believe the baby blues were amplified massively for me because of our feeding troubles. Every day I would be in floods of tears, struggling so much and drawing blanks whenever I looked for help. My hormones were all over the place, and as a result, knowing how to manage these challenges felt impossible. I would start clock watching, waiting for my husband to come home from work from the second he left the house. I would text friends who also had babies around the same time, desperate for someone else to validate how I felt, longing for someone else to tell me they were finding it tough too. I had been through so much to get him; the more time went on the more it became a reality that I was likely never going to be a Mum. I couldn’t find it tough. I had to enjoy every minute. How could I possibly feel anything but immense gratitude and pure, unfaltering happiness? It was here that I truly became even more grateful for the social media platform I had; my inbox was becoming full of Mums who just wanted to tell me everything I was feeling was normal. I didn’t have to enjoy every single second; having a newborn is immensely hard.
I remember people telling me how I never put him down, and feeling bad because all I wanted to do was hold him. It seemed impossible to explain to people that he had just spent 9 months tucked safely into a small space inside my body, and now, he was quite literally in a whole new world and perhaps the safest, most comfortable place for him was in my arms. You become a new parent and you become inundated with advice; people telling you how you should be doing things; how you’re making all these rods for your own back, when really at this point all you truly want and need is for someone to make you a hot cup of tea and offer to do your washing. Your whole life has turned on its head, and your baby needs nothing but you, and yet the rest of the world seem in such a rush to separate the two of you. I didn’t want anyone else to hold him, and yet I felt I was being unreasonable by not wanting anyone to take my baby from me. It was as though everybody else had the right to hold him, except me. I missed him for every second he was with someone else, and I truly didn’t anticipate how anxious I would feel. Whenever he was held by anyone other than my own parents or my husband, I would be watching them like a hawk. I couldn’t relax unless he was with me.
The changes to my body continue to floor me, but going from a heavily pregnant body to feeling as though I had a pouch of jelly attached to me, I didn’t quite expect. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t realise how I would still look pregnant for a while, and how different my stomach would feel to my pre-pregnancy stomach. I thought I would see my stretch marks as a badge of honour and for the first couple of weeks I did, but once the novelty wore off and the hormones continued to soar, I had no idea how to feel about my new body. I realised I no longer knew how to dress. Nothing I wore pre-pregnancy made me feel good anymore; my shape had changed and my hips were wider, my boobs were engorged and would leak at any given opportunity, my bras were uncomfortable and I felt like I’d lost any element of style I’d had beforehand. I had no time to style my hair, and I felt like with motherhood I had lost every sense of who I was. Was this going to last?
Now, 5 months in, life is starting to feel more normal. The love I have for my son is something I never knew I could feel and every day it grows more, and more. I had felt immense love before, but the love I feel for him is a kind of love I struggle to comprehend and explain. The fourth trimester took its toll on me in many ways; it floored me, it turned me into an emotional wreck that neither I nor my husband knew how to cope with. The newborn days were so hard, and yet I look at my smiley boy who has just cut his first two teeth, wishing time would slow down and I could experience it all again. I’ve boxed up his tiny baby and newborn clothes, but cannot bring myself to physically remove them from his bedroom.
Those first 12 weeks were some of the hardest 12 weeks of my life, but they were also the most blissfully beautiful three months I’ll ever have the privilege of experiencing. Now they’re gone, I’d do anything to live them again.