The Ups and Downs of Post-Partum Recovery

post-partum depression

I wrote the post that begins further down the page when I was twenty days post-partum, and completely forgot to publish it. Looking back, I had no idea how completely low I was. I feel great now, but it’s so worrying that even with lots of support you can feel completely overwhelmed – people close to me have said “oh I’m so glad you’re better” but I didn’t even realise that there was anything wrong with me!

Thank goodness I had lots of help in the first few weeks – I’m still getting lots of help, I haven’t really had to do a day on my own yet and the New Baby is six weeks old. I think had I been looking after both a toddler and a newborn I’d have felt far worse – to be honest, I don’t think that I felt depressed, it was more that I was overwhelmed by how tired I was and how many different ailments I had. You could say that it was more physical than mental. I felt as though my body was completely out of my control!

READ: My C-Section Recovery

Post-partum is a bizarre time; I don’t know whether it has been like this for other people, but I feel as though one day you can be the lowest you’ve ever been and the next you feel as though you’re untouchable, like superwoman. That anything is possible. And you make all of these plans for world domination from the (relative) comfort of your bed, but when you try to execute them you realise just how limited you are. In time, in energy, in health.

post-partum depression

Now at six weeks post-partum I feel mostly marvellous. I’m not “back to my old self” by any means; I’m more tired and my body needs some healthy food and a bit of fresh air, but I’ve been out to the shops and to Tumble Tots with Angelica and I’ve cooked, had people over, been for a long walk, done quite an astonishing amount of work on my laptop and worn jeans, if only for two hours. I feel as though I’m on my way to getting back to – if not my old self, then a new version my old self.  And that new version is going to be marvellous. Who needs to get back to their old self? (Wouldn’t mind the flattish stomach back and a some extra sanity but apart from that…)

Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago at what must have been a bit of a low ebb:

“Frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious; not words I thought I’d be using to describe my first few post-partum weeks. I’ll be honest, I thought that I’d be breezing through them, what with it being my second baby – no surprises, breastfeeding technique already practised and perfected, support network (husband, parents, nanny) pre-organised. But I’ve been totally bowled over by just how hard I’ve found it, adjusting to a new baby again – the sleepless nights, the fear of the c-section scar bursting open (had forgotten about that particular mental horror!), being cooped up in the bedroom whilst the sounds of life continuing as normal can just be heard through the closed door… People telling you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” but not realising what it does to you, to your mental state, to be awake on your own all night and then to sleep all day. To basically have no real human contact, apart from with a tiny, beautiful creature who only knows how to voice his disapproval and has no way of saying “well done Mum! You’re keeping me alive and I really, really appreciate it.”

On some days, (usually when there’s been sleep the night before) I feel as though I could genuinely conquer the world. I make lists as I do the first breastfeed of the morning – I plan activities to do with Angelica, I look at ideas for meals I might cook her and search the internet for Tumble Tot timetables and swimming lesson details. I draft blog posts, eat hummus and salad instead of desperately wolfing down chocolate and biscuits, I think to myself, you’ve got this. This mothering thing. Who the hell said it was hard?

That’s usually at around 8am, but by 10am I’ve crashed out – tired, weepy, c-section scar smarting, boobs leaking milk, hearing Angelica having fun but too exhausted to heave myself out of bed and join in. Was it this hard the first time around? I didn’t even have a place to live, for Angelica’s first three or four months! Surely that must have been more stressful? But I think that I took the recovery in my stride because I didn’t know what to expect – leaking milk, blood, whatever else and basically living in a half-awake stupor, getting through one hour at a time, I had no real expectations and hadn’t set myself any goals. This time, I think I set the bar too high – I imagined myself going out with the double pram after a week or so, sitting in a cafe or at Pizza Express, I thought that the baby would sleep for three hours, feed for one, in a regular pattern.

How naive! How quickly you forget what life with a newborn is like: completely all-consuming. They don’t want to latch on, they just want to be held, then they want a feed but they don’t feed for long, so you can’t sleep because you know they’ll want a proper feed soon. Then they feed and they’re sleepy, but you can tell they need changing and you don’t want them lying in their poo, so you change them and it wakes them up, and before you know it you’re at 3.30am and you got into bed at 10pm and half of the night has disappeared…

post-partum depression

And I haven’t even had to look after two on my own yet – I’ve been extraordinarily lucky that I’ve always had someone else here. Mostly my husband, but when he’s been working then various family members, and our amazing nanny who does two days a week… I mean I do see Angelica, but I can’t pick her up, can’t lean down to the floor to change her, struggle to dress her if she needs her trousers pulling up or her wellies taking off. I can’t bath her, get her out of her cot or put her into it, I can’t lift her into her high chair or chase her around the garden. I’m feeling so incredibly helpless and I keep thinking that she’ll remember these weeks and wonder where I was. Which is ridiculous, isn’t it? But at the same time, I’m anxious about how I’ll cope when I do have both of them! Perhaps because I still feel so crap, body-wise, I can’t imagine ever having enough energy, or feeling brave enough to lift something heavy, like a toddler – how on earth do people cope?!”

If you’re feeling low, post-partum, there are people who can help. My health visitor was very good at keeping tabs on my mood, and they are able to put you in touch with someone you can talk to if you (or they) feel as though you may have postnatal depression. The Association for Post Natal Illness have a helpline and loads of resources, their website is here.

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24 Comments

  1. Rose Teagle
    March 20, 2017 / 9:07 am

    Reading this at 20 days post- partum, I also had a c section and watched all your videos about your planned section which I found so helpful (so thank you for sharing!). I was booked for a planned section due to my boy being breech, however he had other ideas and I went into labour 3 weeks early so had an emergency section. Just wanted to say how completely amazing I think you are doing, I can’t even imagine the struggle of looking after a toddler with a newborn and the section recovery. Like you I have some amazing support around me, however am terrified of my husband going back to work the day after tomorrow, I have visions of him arriving back from work with me sat in the same place… unshowered, all milky, surrounded by cups of cold tea I’ve not got round to drinking! You’ve given me hope that it will get easier, keep up the incredible work girl, Angelica is such a credit to you xxx

  2. March 20, 2017 / 9:08 am

    I was overwhelmed as well, despite having a great support system and experience, and I guess it will always be that way, no matter how many children there are. I for one think I will stop at two, now that I have them, but I don’t think it will be different when it comes to baby three or four.

  3. Gemma
    March 20, 2017 / 10:13 am

    I’m a mum of one (and it’s likely to stay that way for a whole host of reasons) but your section written at your lowest ebb made me cry! It made all those feelings from my first six weeks rush back. I was dealing with a prem baby, living overseas, lonely at night and lonely by day. My c-section left me feeling housebound as I lived in a city and had to push the buggy up a huge f’in hill to get home, and I knew no one who was in the same position as me. All my antenatal class friends were still pregnant! I felt robbed of 7 weeks of maternity leave, I wasn’t ready to be a mum and two weeks with limited to my baby whilst he was in SCBU had left me bruised and battered in more than the physical sense. The first six weeks were the loneliest time of my life.

    Thanks to my wonderful close friends, my awesome husband, my UK friends WhatsApping me during those lonely night feeds and my fabulous midwife, I gradually built up confidence to get to a breastfeeding clinic to meet some fellow new mums and try to claim back my sanity. As I walked in, I burst into tears and said ‘no one told me I’d feel so lonely’.

    Fast forward a few more clinics and I made some new friends who showed me where to go, how to feed, how to ignore old opinionated Chinese ladies and most importantly, helped me to discover the new version of me.

    It took me to six months before I felt in control again. We’d had a rough start but two years’ later, those rough weeks feel like a blip – although they didn’t at the time. I’m back at work, we’re back in the UK and my son is thriving.I also have some amazing friends all because of how hard those first few weeks were.

    All this is to say to all the mums out there: you can do this, you don’t need to be superwoman but you should also never be afraid to say ‘this is hard, I’m lonely, what do I do?’ It takes time, don’t be afraid to accept help (in whatever form you need it) and you are most definitely not alone.

    • Kelly
      March 20, 2017 / 10:25 pm

      Wow, I really related to your post Gemma. I was also the Mam who turned up at a breastfeeding group with a tiny baby, a nappy bag & a face full of tears. Thanks to you and Ruth for your honesty & for helping other Mams realise that its ok to feel lonely and a bit lost, that there are many others who feel the same, and that it gets easier! Being a Mam is the most wonderful thing ever, yet also presents us with the greatest challenges. Sharing our stories & experiences can only help 🙂

    • Anna
      March 21, 2017 / 5:42 pm

      Gemma – I’m currently living exactly this – 6 weeks in with a prem baby born at 33 weeks. First three weeks in SCBU and only realising now how much it affected me. NCT friends only just started having their babies so far behind me – perhaps I’ll try the breastfeeding clinic! Thank you for your comment – it helps to know it’s not just me.

    • India
      March 22, 2017 / 11:36 am

      Thank you for your honesty and for sharing this, I am currently pregnant with my first and trying my absolute best to gear myself up for how hard it will be whilst at the same time knowing I can never prepare myself for it! But knowing I will be able to come back and read these commetns and remind myself that I can ask for help and vocalise being lonely is so helpful. xx

  4. RC
    March 20, 2017 / 10:41 am

    Ruth, thank you a million times for this honest post.

    So refreshing for other mums to know its not just them feeling like this. Thats its hard, and ‘normal’ to feel overwhelmed, that it gets better, and that if it doesn’t there is help and its ok, in fact imperative, to ask for that help.

    Glad your mood is lifting and you continue to recover physically.

  5. littlemissnaughty
    March 20, 2017 / 11:20 am

    Oh wow. I don’t have kids so I can’t contribute much except to say that no, Angelica will not remember this at all. Or at least not in the way you fear. As someone with a sister who’s less than 2 years younger I can tell you that my parents did the same thing. My dad was more “in charge” of me when my sister was born (mum had two c-sections as well and that was over 30 years ago). I’m as close to my mum as can be but it did have the added bonus that I was really close to my dad as well. Especially as a child. Bedtime, changing, meal times, you name it. I was always as happy to have dad do it as I was with mum. My sister didn’t get that special time and frankly, I think she missed out a little. So if anything, this is probably great for their relationship.

  6. Adela
    March 20, 2017 / 1:35 pm

    I remember well how overwhelming those first 6-8 weeks were, even though I had no c-section and I healed quite well after delivering naturally. I had no support, my husband could not stay at home (in Switzerland there is no paternal leave) because he just started his new job and could not take a leave, my parents live 1500km away, so I was completely alone. Now, at six months, I can not believe how much easier it got but at that time I only thought: how I am supposed to survive that? Thanks for being honest and so inspiring!

  7. Emma
    March 20, 2017 / 2:06 pm

    The baby trenches are hard. You know so at the time, but even looking back now I vividly remember all the things you’ve said here. Now my girls are 9 and 12 and life is in a peachy place before the onslaught of adolescence. But each of the stages you go through with your kids prepares you for the next. What seems utterly unfathomable becomes the logical next step. I am glad you’ve reached that magical 6-8 week mark where finally the sun comes out from behind the clouds though!

  8. Jemima
    March 20, 2017 / 3:16 pm

    Well first things first. Being a mother is the hardest, hardest, hardest job in the whole, wide world. And you’ll never know it until you’re there. When I hear that someone is expecting a baby, I am initially thrilled for them, but very quickly my thoughts change to feeling slightly worried – the fact that they really have no idea what’s coming.

    I know you hear everyone say, ‘but you must cherish every moment’, and, ‘you’ll never get this time again’, but when you are in the throws of witching hour for the seventeenth day in a row, and you’ve only actually had about 17 hours sleep in those 17 days, you feel like telling them all to F-off.

    There’s an immense pressure on mothers to be super women, and it’s just not possible. It’s not possible to do it all. To get dressed, to get the house cleaned, to bake and entertain, as well as just making sure they are fed and watered and bathed.

    When I had my second child, I had no help – other than from my husband. And I honestly didn’t enjoy the first few months. I thought, how is this actually possible? My baby wants to be on me all the time. And my toddler needs me too. I remember breastfeeding my baby in one arm, and getting my toddler into his sleeping bag ready for his nap, with the other arm. And leaning against the wall making up a story, whilst feeding the baby, hoping so much that he went to sleep, and that the baby did too…

    Basically, it’s all a bit mental. And now my children are both a bit older, it IS easier in some ways. But it’s still mental! And I still go through big lows – as well as the big highs, too.

    I just try to remember that I’m never alone in the way I feel. And now that my two are three and 19 months, I am getting back a bit of time for me, with my photography and my music. And it feels really great. You will be there soon! It’s so important to make time for yourself, and not feel guilty about it.

  9. March 20, 2017 / 4:22 pm

    Hello Ruth, I feel for you. Thanks for sharing with us. My sister was born 3.5 years after me and I don’t remember a thing about when she was born. Or just a trip with my dad to Paris but I don’t know if it was just then. I have a lot of admiration for you typing all this as you are busy with a new born.

  10. Gaz
    March 20, 2017 / 9:26 pm

    Seasoned parents warn you about the lack of sleep but as a first time mum I underestimated how hard it would be. To put it simply, you are not yourself when you can’t sleep. Being awake at night in between feeds and then being unable to fall back to sleep even though you are so tired, has got to be the loneliest and most frustrating feeling ever. Some nights I’d have a good cry in the bathroom so as not to wake the baby and then I’d go downstairs and make myself a cuppa. I became grumpy and snapped at my other half a lot during those first 6 weeks of dealing with a colicky baby who seemed to have a growth spurt every other week. Newborns are cute but it can feel like a thankless job sometimes. Well meaning people tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. If only she’d go down for more than two hours you’d scream inside. I also had those random bursts of energy when you feel ready to take on the world again but soon fizzled out. Most days I felt like a zombie running on autopilot. What kept me going was taking my multivitamin tablets, homecooked food brought over by family and the belief that it would get better. Also when baby starts smiling and interacting you know it’s been worth the struggle 🙂

  11. Emily
    March 21, 2017 / 6:06 am

    Thank you for posting this. It’s important to be honest about the rough patches. It’s okay to ask for help from other people. This idea that we should juggle everything all on our own – and need to bounce back into shape and into the old routines as soon as possible – is new in human history.

    A wise woman with five kids once told me that the hardest part was going from one child to two; each subsequent addition was easy in comparison. She said that mastering the care of one child lulls you into thinking it will be easier with the second, and then you are shocked at how hard two kids actually are. You get the hang of it, but it’s a shock to the body and mind. She said after that, you cut yourself more slack with each additional kid and just take it as it comes.

  12. SM
    March 21, 2017 / 1:17 pm

    Thank you Ruth for your honesty. I am a first time mum and this really hit hard! I did not expect motherhood to be so physically and mentally demanding straight after birth. I was naive and assumed that babies slept most of the time. Boy was I wrong! I went through a phase where I felt completely and utterly alone. I was even afraid to go out with the baby and thought I was a bad mother for wanting my old life back. Nothing prepares you for this. I really really wish the baby blues/ postnatal depression was covered in my antenatal classes. It didn’t help that I was the first in my group of friends to have a baby. I have to say that being a mother is the hardest job and I have a newfound respect for my own mum.

    • J
      March 23, 2017 / 8:38 pm

      I coul not agree more. I felt so lonely and lost after having my baby. I wish people talk more about it. Motherhood is amazing but its not all smooth sailing…

  13. Marie
    March 21, 2017 / 7:38 pm

    i think most mums whether experienced or not go through the same feelings you experienced to either a greater or lesser extent. I had a rough time with my first, a post partum bleed, giving up breast feeding after only one week because I found it so difficult, a colicky baby, etc. It was completely not the wonderful experience I had expected and because I had always been so independant, it was a shock for me that I found it hard to cope.
    Second time around, I had realistic expectations, that it would take me time to recover physically, that I may need to get more help breast feeding, that I would be tired and I would have to ask people to help out, etc. I think that because I didn’t set myself unrealistic expectations, I found the difficulties that all mums experience with a new born much easier to cope with. Basically, I was much kinder to myself second time around.
    If a new mum complains of tiredness to me, I always tell them to get their iron levels rechecked, I didn’t with my first despite having a transfusion but second time around, I got them rechecked at the GPs a few weeks post partum and he put me on a few months worth of iron tablets to build up my iron levels. I felt much better physically second time around, I don’t know if this could have been a reason.

  14. Marce
    March 21, 2017 / 8:12 pm

    Being a mum can be such an emotional rollercoaster!. I still get days now where I want to cry because I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and my daughter is 20 months lol! Being A mum is hard and nobody can prepare you about those first few weeks, months. I think you’re doing an amazing job and hold my hat off to you. I will be honest, I am apprehensive about having a 2nd because I know it will be no easy ride! But those great days, where you feel like you can achieve anything like you said. Love those days and ultimately so in love with my daughter, it’s so so worth it. But wow, yes it’s a tough job and I have soooo much respect for mums now! I really had no idea before my daughter!!! Love to you all x x

  15. Claire
    March 24, 2017 / 7:27 am

    I have 4 boys, my youngest 2 have 19 months between them. Son number 4 was born by emergency section and I had to be under general anaesthetic. My section recovery was slow and painful and combined with looking after a 19 month old it was a hard time. My 4th son was not an easy baby and was diagnosed with a milk allergy. 2 years on things are still tiring but I do remember those hard early days.

  16. Tourmaline
    March 26, 2017 / 10:05 am

    Hi Ruth, this comment doesn’t belong here at all but I saw your tweet about postpartum exercise plans. I’m not on twitter but wanted to mention ‘Restore Your Core’ by Lauren Ohayon.

    She’s a specialist in Diastasis Recti and pelvic floor health. She offers a 13 week online course that helps you heal using restorative exercise, yoga and Pilates. She really knows her stuff but delivers it in an accessible, friendly, all things amazing way. You can check her out at ‘restore your core community’ on Facebook (sorry I’m rubbish at links). It’s a closed group but she’s very quick at adding people.

    I would caution using anything that is not split abs specific. It may make things worse.

    I’ve only been doing restore your core for a few weeks but seeing real improvement. I’m not affiliated to her in any way.

  17. Laura
    April 8, 2017 / 11:54 am

    Hi Ruth, I’ve really been enjoying your posts, especially now I’m expecting my first baby – your website is so comforting, reassuring, informative and enjoyable to read!

    I was wondering where you found your nanny? i’ll be needing some childcare help and I’ve no idea where to start looking (websites? recommendations etc?).

    Many thanks!

    • April 8, 2017 / 7:40 pm

      I used a local agency, which worked out to be quite expensive but was worth it – she’s brilliant. I tried using that online no fee one, big database, they advertise on telly, but I had so many weird people contacting me!

      • Laura
        April 9, 2017 / 5:31 pm

        thank you so much! And thank you SO much for your early pregnancy diaries and videos. It’s helped me get through what has been a nerve-racking (and nausea-ridden / totally exhausted / anxious / lonely) first trimester. I’m now week 10 of pregnancy and just can’t wait to pass the first trimester hurdle! x

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