How To Survive Postpartum

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“It’ll be fun,” they said. “Have a baby!” they said. So you did. Now you find yourself, not unlike the vast majority of new mamas, just weeks or months after the most excruciatingly difficult physical experience you’ve ever encountered, LITERALLY going insane. No, it’s not just you… but yes, you are insane. Welcome to postpartum!

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How to Survive Postpartum

Hormones are a strange villain, not the first place we usually turn to blame for our psychotic life, but they should be. On any given day my mood can swing from cheerful – joyful, even! – full of life, excited, optimistic and carefree, all the way over to melancholy, frustrated and irritable, before plunging to downright scary-mama-angry. And that’s all in the span of 2 minutes!

What is WRONG with me?! The thought comes way too frequently these days, and even though I know the answer, I can’t help but wonder if I am, in fact, actually going crazy.

My husband – dear, sweet, husband – {sigh} the poor guy must think I’m certifiable seeing as I regularly go from “I’m so blessed!” to “Don’t look at me.” in the blink of an eye. (You know that meme of the Mary Poppins vs. Batman voice? Yep… guilty.)

So now that we’ve established that I should be locked up somewhere, let’s discuss why. Because I’m not the only psycho out there – and there have been some very practical ways I’ve dealt with (and am currently STILL dealing with) postpartum that – for the safety of all of your husbands and children – for all of humanity, for that matter – I will share with you today.

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Survival is Possible

Don’t trust your instincts. The first big hurdle is getting out of your own head. For my first postpartum experience, it was hard to distinguish what was hormones and what was really a justified emotional trauma seeing as it began and ended in the lead-up to my husband’s first deployment.

The second time around I was unprepared and found myself sinking into a year-long pit of anxiety. So in typical fashion, I assumed the third time’s a charm and hoped that somehow I would miraculously be immune. No such luck. I will say, however, that riding this train now for the 4th time I have put into practice my suggestions to you and IT HAS WORKED. Not a magic cure, mind you, but real, practical tools to survive this season that actually make a difference.

Knowing to second guess your own feelings and reactions is probably the key most important thing you could do. I’ve actually had this discussion with my husband, who knows that, in case of an extraordinary display of emotions, just assume that I’m insane.

And although he’s always so careful (like egg-shell careful) to bring it to my attention, that’s exactly what he does. And he’s usually right. Ok fine… he’s always right.

{UPDATE: In addition to being more familiar with this terrain, I believe two of the biggest benefits I’ve had this time around are my support system and the fact that my son is such a good sleeper (see our latest secret weapon on the ‘ultimate must-have for baby’ list! These things are invaluable when it comes to coping with postpartum.}

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Know your body and what it’s doing.
I’ve talked to dozens of women about this very specific challenge and we all agree, understanding the process of hormonal balance takes the ‘scary’ out of postpartum.

Not to get too technical, but if your body is a see-saw that’s used to being settled on the firm ground on one side, imagine postpartum as that slow, awkward, terrifying process of having someone settle in on the other side.

The sudden burst of power when you find yourself hanging on for dear life, flying through the air, are those moments when you have no earthly idea why your skin is crawling and you’re pulling your hair out – but seriously: your hair is falling out. Like, by the handfuls. Yep. That’s postpartum.

So the next time you find yourself mid-swing, try to regain the presence of mind to run through a few quick truths:

  1. First of all, this is a hormonal reaction, like a rash on your skin. You don’t really want to scream at your toddler. Not really.
  2. Second, this is progress! For every crazy moment you have, that’s one more behind you! True, postpartum is different for everyone, some people’s experience lasting weeks while others (yours truly) have had to deal with night terrors and feverish anxiety for months on end, but it WILL be over eventually and this is just one step closer to getting there.
  3. Lastly, look at that little angel trying to stuff dog hair in her mouth by the drooly, chubby handful and count your blessings. It’s worth it.

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Button your bill.
Anything you say can and will be held against you for the rest of your life. So don’t speak. Do not speak. Hold your hand over your mouth like you’re running to the toilet – but DON’T let those words come out. Because in two minutes you’ll feel great and everyone else in the room will be terrified of the Hulk-like transformation they just witnessed.

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Outsmart your hormones.
Postpartum is all about balance. Not necessarily that of your environment: although it’s tempting to believe that if all you had to do every day was rock back in forth in the corner of a padded room you’d feel great, that’s not -entirely- true.

The war is going on inside of you, young Padawan. Which means that padded room or not, you’re just going to be a wreck sometimes. The only way to balance what’s going on inside your body is to pay attention to what’s going on inside your body.

You know that tendency we have as moms to give our kids the medical treatment required for amputation when they get a paper cut, but can’t remember to take an Advil when we’ve had a headache for three hours? Yes! That. That is our enemy in postpartum.

Taking care of yourself actually does make you feel better! (Light bulb!) The best place to start? Well, you know those prenatal vitamins you stopped taking in your third trimester because you forgot you had them? You still need those.

You also need (wait for it) sleep. Sleep – yes, I know, LMFHO (laugh my freaking head off) you’re a mom now, you don’t sleep. But if you can find a way to incorporate some of that into your lifestyle, believe me, you’ll feel better.

There are also a million little ‘cheats’ that you can use to trick your body into balance. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Essential oils are my default these days. I regularly diffuse blends that say things like ‘happy’ or ‘cheerful’ (otherwise known as the Don’t Eat Your Children blend), and I learned somewhere that citrus oils are good for your mood.
    So at any given moment throughout the day, you may find me hiding in my pantry, tears rolling down my cheeks while clinging to a bottle of Wild Orange, furiously aromatherapy-ing.
  2. Good food makes you feel good. Shocker, I know, but let’s face it, eating your kids’ Spaghetti-O leftovers does not qualify as lunch. Find out what you’re missing in your diet (a Google search for good postpartum foods is a great place to start, but you can also talk to your primary care doctor about areas your body may naturally be deficient in. A blood test can be extremely helpful in determining what foods you need to focus on).
  3. Exercise is good for you. Sorry, I just betrayed us all, I know. You’re a new mom – if you have time to BRUSH YOUR TEETH you’re a hero, let alone exercise. (It’s that ugly word again!) But it really does make all the difference.

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Remember it won’t last forever.
I mentioned earlier that my second postpartum experience dragged on… and on and on. It really did feel like it would never end. But it did. Slowly but surely the clouds parted and I was ‘me’ again, albeit not quite as skinny and exponentially more tired – I was still me. 

That might be the scariest part of postpartum: you don’t feel like you. It must be what an out of body experience feels like, watching yourself react in a way that is so uncharacteristic of you and your temperament. I’ve spent many days crying my eyes out because the prospect of taking care of four kids is so incredibly daunting while operating on partial capacity.

It is a natural progression after pregnancy, which is perhaps not comforting in the moment, but should be reassuring. You can do this. Just like your body was designed to hold a child and endure labor, it knows how to put itself back together again. Just let it do its job and try to hold on to your sanity. You’ll be back to normal before you know it.

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Now is a good time to address a topic we don’t talk about very often, at least, perhaps not as much as we should. When my husband and I experienced our first miscarriage we had no idea there was a postpartum process that would soon follow. {Read more about our miscarriage story here.}

Totally blindsided, I felt like my world was falling apart just weeks after my dreams had been shattered. I’m not sure why I was surprised, but in all the research we’d done we had never once stumbled across information regarding postpartum after miscarriage.

I’m not going to lie, it was one of the strangest, most terrifying emotional/mental experiences I’ve ever known. It was like a year’s worth of hormones got compacted into a few short weeks and I was so incredibly unbalanced and unstable, I thought I must be going insane.

Telling of what was going on inside, on the outside, it wasn’t much better. My nails became brittle almost overnight and went from being long and healthy to falling off all the way down to the nail bed. My hair became so unbelievably dry that I dealt with split ends for over two years.

My skin was parched – like the middle of the winter dry – in August. I was a wreck. Before we figured out what was going on, my husband and I were both quietly terrified. I was a monster – an unpredictably, trigger-happy monster. He’s a saint for not leaving me.

If you’ve experienced what I’ve described, you’re not alone. And if you someday, although I pray it isn’t so, must endure a miscarriage, be prepared. I’m sure everyone is different, but it makes sense that if a healthy pregnancy results in a massive hormonal shift, an abbreviated one would need to as well.

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So hopefully you’ve come to recognize that you’re not the only one on the hormone rollercoaster. Be strong, be smart – take care of yourself. And most of all, be encouraged! It will end and you’ll all survive, and someday you might even be crazy enough to do it all over again!

Stay strong, Mama, and carry on! And while you’re at it, share your tips and tricks in the comments below! We love to hear how the rest of you are surviving through this crazy beautiful journey.

Happy Hormones!

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Special thanks to Kalyn Griffin Photography for the beautiful photos!

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One thought on “How To Survive Postpartum

  1. Pingback: My Baby You’ll Be {the journey through miscarriage and recovery} | JOY FOR MOM

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