J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.
In the weeks after giving birth, much has changed. Your schedule might be the same, and our house looks the same, but my world has been flipped upside down. There are things you should know about me.
Know that I feel vulnerable, broken, tired, aching, and swollen. I do not feel pretty, I do not feel like myself, I do not feel strong. I need time to heal from what nature took 9 months to create, rather than feeling rushed to feel and look like my pre-pregnancy self by the 6 week postpartum checkup where you’re told you are “normal” again. I know you are curious, but please do not ask me every day postpartum, “how much do you weigh now?” Do not ask to see my tear stitches, or c-section incision, unless your poker face is on-point. I need you to be my rock, and if you make a “YOU’RE CROTCH IS BROKEN!” face because of the gross-out factor, chances are, in my hormone-flooded and sleep deprived stupor, I will take it personally.
Know that I see you looking at my stretch marks, and stretched out skin, and wondering if they will ever go away. Know that I don’t have a crystal ball to answer that for you, and that It will probably only make me feel more insecure if you ask me about it. Remove the words saggy, puffy, wrinkled, stretched, and loose from your vocabulary when talking to me. As a mom who went through 6 years of IUIs, IVF, and miscarriage before having our babies, know that the stretch marks don’t bother me, they’re my tiger stripes, my hard-earned badge of honor for the huge achievement my body just underwent.
Know that I am terrified that you will find me “less” than I was before kids, that I am worried about how much intimacy will hurt after what my body has been through, and that I am petrified of disappointing you. Know that I am worried that I will disappoint myself, that I will feel let down by my body, and that you will witness the train wreck in real-time.
Do not compare my postpartum recovery to your friend’s wife, your cousin, our neighbor, etc. Do not compare my postpartum recovery to my previous recovery after our first baby. Every person is different, and every pregnancy is different. While someone might bounce right back after their baby, someone else might need more time to heal. With my first baby, I felt like myself again within a couple of weeks, and was 30 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight by 6 weeks after delivery. After my second pregnancy, I had complications from the unplanned c-section, and did not bounce back as fast. Know that asking “Is your belly shrinking at the same rate it did last time?” will not make it shrink any faster, and will not make me feel any better.
Understand that I am jealous because your drive to work is just that, your drive to work. My drive to work is a fight to get a toddler into his carseat, 3 trips to the car with the kids and bags, a drive to daycare, unpacking 2 kids with diaper bags, then a drive to work (likely with a higher-than-acceptable amount of toddler snot and baby spitup on my clothes). I am jealous that you can listen to what you want on the car radio on your drive, without a 2-year old shouting “I don’t like this one!” and singing the ABCs on an endless loop for the rest of the drive. After work, I unpack diaper bags/lunches. I change diapers/pullups, feed dinners, give baths, read stories, and kiss boo-boos. I clean spitup out of carseats, wash laundry, wash dishes, re-pack bags for tomorrow, and wonder why I’m not getting everything on my to-do list done.
Know that I feel guilty, because I know that as tiring as it is now, that I will miss these days. I feel sad that while my mornings are hectic now, I will miss them when the kids are old enough to ride the school bus. While I long for one ounce of me-time, I feel guilty because I know I will look back and miss my evening snuggles with the same book we’ve read the past 37 nights in a row. I know I will be trading in my tears of overtired frustration, for tears of missing my babies being babies.
Know that I am tired. When you wake up on Saturday at 9am, I have been up since 3:45am, after getting 2 hours of sleep, and have not yet showered or eaten. Understand that when you go straight to the shower after getting up, then sit down with breakfast, I am jealous. I want to wake up to something other than a baby screaming because they have an empty stomach, or a two year old trying to brush my face with a hairbrush to make my eyelashes more “prettyful.” My body has forgotten what it feels like to wake up because it is rested, rather than because it is needed. I am jealous because I want to get out of bed slowly, one foot at a time, rather than with lightening speed and the finesse of a bomb squad, trying to get to one baby before they wake the other. I am jealous because I want to take a shower, just once, without a crying baby in a bounce seat parked next to the shower, and without a 2 year old peeking around the shower curtain to announce that they forgot to use the potty and need clean pants. A shower without a 2 year old flushing my nailpolish down the toilet and running away with my clothes.
Understand that maternity leave is not vacation. Maternity leave for me involves working part-time from home with one job, working per-diem from home with another, while my body healed from a c-section, as I took care of a newborn who had complications and required extra doctors’ appointments, while chasing a toddler around. Know that while you can think of the 100 things you would be doing around the house If you were “home all day,” that I still have to feed and change a baby on demand, while acclimating a 2-year old to sharing his house and parents with a new baby, while recovering from a c-section. Know that while I was trying to find the time to pee or eat, and get basic enough household tasks done for us to function, I did not have time to get ahead on home repairs, nor was I home relaxing all day. Know that I see the look of “what did you do all day?” on your face when you come home to the chaos, and feel like I’m running on a treadmill; never getting any further. You don’t see the 3 sink loads of dishes that were washed, the diaper bucket that was emptied, and the laundry that was washed and put away. You don’t see the breast pump that was used and washed, used and washed, used and washed. You don’t see the 3 meals that were frozen so I could pop them in the oven on a weeknight. You don’t see the floors that were vacuumed, that you just walked across in muddy boots. You don’t see the bills that were paid and painfully walked to the mailbox, the insurance paperwork that was filed, or the Thank You cards written. You didn’t see me cry in a recliner chair between breastfeeding sessions, too tired to function, because I was too sore to be able to get up out of bed if I were to lay down, and too uncomfortable to fall asleep upright in the chair. You didn’t see my tears of frustration when as soon as I fell asleep after comforting a 2-year old startled in the night by a thunderstorm, the baby woke up and needed to be fed. Know that as I was putting together spreadsheets for work, while hooked to a breast pump, and rocking a baby’s seat with my foot, and instructing a 2 year old not to “color on the walls with the chalk, only on the chalkboard,” I did not have time to run the errands you left “in case” I found the time.
Know that I see you holding our baby, being a great daddy, enjoying those newborn snuggles, and that it absolutely fills my heart with joy. A joy I never knew was possible to experience. Know that I see you changing those diapers at 4am, waking up for work exhausted at 5am, coming home exhausted at 8pm, eating dinner with a 2 year old on your lap and a newborn in your arms so I can eat one meal of the day without breastfeeding and sharing my food with a toddler at the same time.
Know how much I appreciate you, and all that you do for us. I might be too tired, sore, and overwhelmed right now to express it more noticeably, but know that Im thinking of you as I toss your pillow in the drier to fluff a little more before you get home. As I cook a dinner that I know you like, rather than one that’s easier for me to reheat and eat one handedly while breastfeeding a baby the next day. As I hold your hand as we try to fall asleep hoping the kids are finally asleep (and will stay asleep for more than 2 minutes). As I stub my toe trying to see in the dark to feed and change a baby throughout the night without waking you up.
Know how much I love you, that I would do this all over again in a heartbeat.
...but 2 is enough, right...?