It's hardly fair. After nine months of pregnancy aches and pains, I assumed I'd feel so much better once the baby was born. But although my nausea and heartburn quickly faded, my hormones went haywire, my hair fell out and I needed maxi pads in size jumbo elephant.
Horrified? Just wait—there's more! So much more. I've been to this sloppy rodeo twice now, and I'm here to tell you the freaky truth about our postpartum bodies, and some practical advice to get through it all.
1. The Grand Canyon – It only takes a few hours to dilate to 10 centimeters, so why does it take so much longer to snap back? Right after birth, my lady parts felt like they were flapping in the breeze, and things were so wide open down there, I was scared a vital organ would fall out and land in my shoe. My advice: No matter what, do not bend over naked and look in a mirror. You can't unsee this stuff.
2. I.P. Freely – I thought that poor bladder control was just a pregnancy thing, but all that pressure on your pelvic floor really takes its toll on your plumbing. So, yeah, you're still going to function like a leaky faucet, especially if you laugh or sneeze. My advice: Whatever you do, don't bounce on a trampoline unless you're wearing a Poise pad.
3. Am I Still in Labor? – I was nursing my newborn when I felt the unmistakable pain of a contraction. WTF? Was I having post-traumatic flashbacks? Turns out that in order for the uterus to return to its normal size, it contracts just like when you're in labor—and these contractions can be intensified by nursing or orgasm. My advice: Avoid orgasm, you postpartum sex monster. LOL.
My advice: When you take a shower, don't look down.
4. Night Fever – A few nights after I got home from the hospital, something woke me, and for once it wasn't a hungry baby. Full body chills and night sweats, a product of post-pregnancy hormonal shifts, left me drenched and freezing. Or boiling hot. My advice: Go to bed in layers, and be prepared for a summer or winter look, depending.
5. Cry Me a River – Even if you're fortunate enough to avoid postpartum depression, there will be at least one day (or week or month) where you just cannot stop crying. Tiny socks make you cry. Unintentionally annoying husbands and mothers make you cry. The commercial with the puppy makes you cry. Blame hormones. My advice: Hole up with some cookies, a box of Kleenex and your baby, because no one else is going to understand what the hell is wrong.
6. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow – Did your hair get really thick and full and gorgeous during pregnancy? That's too bad, because it's probably going to fall out now. This is normal (again, hormones) but still totally disconcerting. My advice: When you take a shower, don't look down.
7. Let it Flow – Of course you bleed after birth, but I assumed it would stop in about a week, like a heavy period. Guess what? There's this squishy afterbirth stuff called lochia (which fades from red to pink to yellow-white) that can keep on flowing for a month or more. My advice: Stock up on pads in every size, and save your nice lingerie for next year.
8. Baby Bump – A few weeks after I gave birth, a lady in a coffee shop asked me when I was due. That's because I still looked plenty pregnant, and so will you. Totally normal. So please wipe away the memory of the Duchess of Cambridge, svelte in her dress and heels one day after birthing Charlotte, and give yourself plenty of time to bounce back. My advice: Don't donate the maternity jeans just yet. No one has to know you're still sporting Liz Lange under your T-shirt.
9. Narcolepsy – Soon after my second baby was born, our babysitter took my 4-year-old out to play. I accidentally locked them out of the house when I dozed off nursing (sitting up, P.S.) and literally slept though multiple phone calls and frantic pounding on the door. I still feel guilty about this. The marathon of birth plus being up all night, every night, equals so-damn-tired-you-forget-your-own-name (it's "Mommy" now, anyway). My advice: Be friends with coffee.
10. The Goody Trail – While pregnant, I had a pretty prominent linea nigra—that dark line that runs from belly to pubes. I thought it would magically disappear when I gave birth. Instead, it hung around for months! Ditto the dark splotches on my face that looked like poorly applied bronzer. I asked my ob-gyn if my goody trail would ever vanish, and he said, "Picture all the moms you know at the beach. Do they still have them?" And I said, "How would I know? They're wearing one pieces with skirts!" My advice: Be patient, and wear a one piece with a skirt.