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How Your Body Really Feels in the Weeks After Giving Birth

Photograph by Twenty20

I was lying in the hospital bed a few hours after I had my first son and wanted so badly to touch my stomach. For the first time in almost 10 months, it was empty. The boy I'd carried around for so long was lying on a table, being looked over by his pediatrician, and I could feel where he used to be.

I put my hand over my hospital gown and looked down at my stomach—it was like nothing I'd ever felt before. It reminded me of when I made pizza dough; after it rises, you punch it down and with one poke of the fist, the dough falls into itself—it looks full, but there's nothing inside to hold it together.

I pictured myself lying in bed on my preferred right side and turning over to to reach something off my nightstand that would be to my left, Will I have to lift up my belly if I want it to move with me?

There was so much extra stuff happening in my midsection I couldn't bring myself to look at myself naked just yet. It felt squishy and strange. Then I looked up and noticed my child had a cleft chin like his father and me and I forgot all about my dough-like belly.

It wasn't long until I couldn't stand it any longer and I had to get in the shower. The mesh underwear paired with so much leaking blood, fluid and maxi pads that resembled diapers, made me feel like I wanted to crawl out of my body and into a new one.

I thought if I could just wash my hair, smell my favorite soap and put on pajamas that were mine, I'd be OK. And I kind of was, after standing under the hot water for what seemed like forever and watching the stream of red that circled down the drain while holding onto the railing so I didn't lose my balance. But not really.

No one tells you how much blood there actually is. When I said something to my doctor about it, she said, "It will go away in six weeks or so." Six weeks.

After you give birth, you are left with soft body parts and more blood than you can contain.

You are exhausted, but sleeping feels impossible for many reasons: You are still so sore from all your body has been through, and the adrenaline rushing through your system keeps you up, even if your baby is sleeping.

You are running on fumes.

There's no such thing as a comfortable position and sometimes you still have contractions for days after your baby has been born.

Wearing sanitary napkins for months at a time can lead to rashes and yeast infections.

Whether you nurse or not, your breasts become so engorged and sore you wonder if you will ever be able to use your arms properly, or wear a bra that doesn't feel like a straightjacket again.

But I don't care who you are—after you have a baby, you do not look, feel or smell the same.

Walking is hard, driving is hard, sleeping is hard and going to the bathroom is damn hard. And those recommended sitz baths put so much pressure on your vagina, I don't know how anyone can sit there for more than a few seconds.

What women need after giving birth is to be submerged in a nice hot bath a few times a day, but who has time for that? I remember my nurse telling me to stand in the shower and use the shower head while leaning against the wall to get some relief. Problem is, there's not much time for that either. And again, standing for longer than a few minutes can be excruciating.

Putting on clothes feels like someone is rubbing at your skin with sandpaper. Nothing fits or feels right. You are big in places you were always small, and if you used to have jeans that fit in the butt and legs but gaped at the waist, that gap is permanently filled in—even when you lose all the baby weight.

No one told me I was going to feel this way. That my body would feel like it had been put through a blender and the recovery time was not just a few weeks, but more like a few months ... or years.

We love our newborns and are so focused on them—keeping them alive, surviving the day and getting sleep—that we don't have much time to complain about our figure, look at our bodies, or stop and rest as we should.

But I don't care who you are—after you have a baby, you do not look, feel or smell the same. It can be shocking to look at yourself and see a thicker middle, lopsided breasts and stretch marks that look like they should be painful. And it doesn't mean you are vain, it means you are human.

When I felt all these feelings over 14 years ago, when I had my first, I felt alone. No one talked about how you bled forever or how your stomach would look like a deflated balloon.

No one mentioned how painful it would be just to walk to the kitchen while holding your newborn when you were home alone with them for the first time.

I had no idea I'd cry trying to get dressed for my first public outing because nothing fit and I so desperately wanted to feel a sliver of my old self.

I never knew how damn hard it would be.

So, if you're feeling raw and like you're never going to be back to yourself, mentally or physically, I'm here to tell you it is hard, it does suck and you are not alone. All those things you are feeling and experiencing make you completely normal.

You will start to feel some sense of your old self again, but it's a very slow process. Just hang in there.

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