All my life, the picture that has been painted around me has been a tiring pregnancy, a PAINFUL labour and a happily ever after with the new baby. It was like labour and delivery brought an end to it all. I was SHOCKED that it was just the beginning. Sigh.
I realised very quickly that every time I had been with a baby, it had been out at a program…church, mall etc where I will just hold the baby for a few seconds and ohhh and ahhh about the baby. The moment the baby started to cry, over to mummy. Don’t we all do that? And considering that I had literally never been with a cousin, aunty, friend…like no one around me who had had a fresh baby, I was a proper greenhorn.
So what was it about postpartum life that I wish somebody, anybody had told me?
- Breastfeeding is not automatic : When your baby arrives, he will most likely spend the first few hours of his life sleeping. You think you are the only one who suffered? Charley, being pushed out into the world is not easy. Hehe. Sometimes, the nurses may wake baby up to eat if they think he’s been sleeping too long. You will most likely be told to put the baby to breast. It’s said so casually that it sounds so simple. Wrong! First of all, you most likely wouldn’t get the positioning right. Now when you are taught, you still won’t get it right! Ha. It’s one of those things that takes a lot of practice. Okay, so you have been able to hold the baby in position, now what? You are told not to put the breast into the baby’s mouth but allow the baby to latch on. What…what? Latch? O…kay. So the baby actually knows what to do; it’s part of their natural instincts. The problem is usually you not distracting the process. That too takes practice. Finally, the breastmilk itself takes a while to come in. Some clinics will have you give your baby formula milk while the milk is not in yet. Asempa was not interested in the formula milk; he took the first cup he was given and threw it all up. So here I was with a baby crying because he was hungry and everyone around me asking every second if the breastmilk had finally come in. I was given palm nut soup, aburo and nkatiɛ (roasted corn and groundnuts), shea butter to rub my breasts. Can’t say if they helped but well, the breastmilk finally came in on Day 2, somewhere in the evening. What a relieve!
- A new body to adjust to : People see me today with my slim body and ask me how did I do it? Er…the secret is, I actually wanted to keep a bit of my pregnancy weight. Lol. That notwithstanding, a mummy tummy was not part of the plan. You can imagine my surprise when I realised that my tummy still looked like I had a baby inside. When my aunt tied the tummy however, I felt uncomfortable! I decided my body was just not ready for this torture yet so I would give it some time before I begin to wear a corset. But no, people around me thought I was planning to compete in a biggest tummy competition. “Go and tie your tummy” , “Why haven’t you tied your tummy?”, “Ei! Air will go inside oh”. In fact, one Aunty who had come around to help fussed so much about it that I had my mum sack her. Thank you, but no thank you!
- Handling a newborn : The baby that was kicking so vigorously and the baby that arrives are two different people. Hehe. It’s as though they are champions of the womb but have to adjust to this world. Half the time…in fact, make that 90% of the time, they are coiled as though they are still in the womb. That alone makes it difficult to carry them. I will tell hubby newborns are difficult to “arrange”. And their neck! Like they have no way to support their neck. You have to do that for them all the time. Newborns are really fragile and must be handled very carefully to protect them. Thankfully, this also gets better with practice. Ironically, by the time you are almost perfect in the craft, they would be out of the newborn stage and ready to challenge you in other areas. Lol!
- Sleepless nights (and days) : My goodness! Lack of sleep! You should see pictures hubby took of me dozing off as I breastfed Asempa in the night. Newborns have tiny stomachs so they need to eat very often which is every two to three hours. They therefore wake up several times in the night to feed. Now there are some babies like Asempa who will wake up for a night feed and not go right to sleep afterwards but would want you to rock them to sleep else they will cry their heart out. So here you are, feeling so sleepy but you need to pace and sing to get him to sleep. And yes, that is another thing I didn’t know : Babies don’t just fall asleep easily. It is a whole process to put them to sleep. Thankfully, I was able to hand over the putting of baby to sleep to hubby. Interestingly, I was so prepared for this as a second time mum but Ayemye easily fell asleep once he was full so I did not have too many sleepless nights with him.
- Tiredness that you have never defined : You see that tiredness that you feel when you have killed yourself to study for a paper paa and then you are finally done writing it? Now multiply that by 1000 and raise to the power 78. Hehe. In fact, right after the baby arrived, I slept like a baby! I was uncontrollably tired. Add the sleepless nights, and you are literally a zombie. Everyone says sleep during the day when the baby is asleep but here I was thinking I was being lazy. I couldn’t believe I was letting other people do everything for me but I just couldn’t help it! 4 days after Asempa arrived, I remember “sneaking” to take a bucket to go and do some washing. Charley, just after filling the bucket (a very tiny one for that matter), no one told me to go back and lie down. With time however, you regain your strength. It doesn’t last forever so please don’t feel guilty to rest when you have to.
- A lot of happenings “down there” : I remember while I was reading about labour, one article mentioned lochia and I deliberately ignored it, telling myself to focus on the birth process first. Ha! Lochia-the menstrual period that never ends. Basically, it is your body getting rid of blood, mucus and uterine tissue after you give birth. It starts off as a very heavy flow for about two days, then gets lighter for up to about two weeks postpartum and then really light up to six weeks postpartum. Did I say six? Yes six weeks. Some people are lucky to have it last much shorter though. As if that is not enough, you may have had a tear or an episiotomy so the midwife would have given your lady parts some stitches. Boy! It was uncomfortable! It did not hurt per se, just discomfort…some burning sensation…I don’t even know how to describe it. It just wasn’t a happy feeling. It felt worse as a first time mum than as a second time mum. In fact, it was so bad that I struggled to poop, I kid you not! I felt like everything that makes me a woman will just pop out. Hehe. Sorry if I just spoilt your lunch and dinner. Anyway, it heals, so yes, it gets better with time.
- Advice from ever corner : New mum equals advice. Period! Everyone including family, church folks, work folks or even a random woman at the mall has something to say about how stuff should be done. The worst of it is the superstition. Ei! They are both funny and annoying. If you leave Baby’s clothes on the line beyond 6pm, he will poop green. Emmanuel will ask, how did the drying line get connected to Baby’s digestive system? 🤫, the oldies will hear. If you allow the baby to stand up, he’ll be bowlegged. If you do exclusive breastfeeding, he won’t like eating later on. One person told me to breastfeed while eating because that will help Baby to put on weight. Another said if I do that, Baby will have a running stomach. Please which should I have believed? Hehe. Don’t cut Baby’s nails when he’s asleep (meanwhile, that’s when he’s most stable. Sigh!) Hot water must be used to shape Baby’s head. Charley, the list is endless. One thing I told myself very early on in this journey is that at the end of the day, it comes down to you and hubby. If something won’t hurt, I will just close my eyes and allow the oldies to have their way. If my gut doesn’t agree, I will insist that it’s done my way and make sure I stay confident about it. Does it get better? Er…kinda. The advice will always come but when the advisers notice that you don’t accept everything hook, line and sinker, they are more cautious and if you are lucky, they would mind their own business. Hehe.
- A new life to adjust to : A baby is a big change. Girl, you have brought a whole human being into this world so your life will definitely change. If you decide that life cannot change, that’s when you will have the most frustration. Every outing has to involve a plan for Baby considering what he’ll eat, if he’ll sleep before you go out so he’s not fussy, if you will leave Baby with grandma because it’s a long outing, a lot of stuff. Sometimes (and a lot of times for that matter), you may have to decide to cancel and really that’s okay. You don’t need to feel bad about it. Some people may not understand but that’s their problem. You are a different person now so embrace that difference and restructure your life. For someone like me who is so used to planning my life to the tiniest detail, it was very difficult for me to realise that my plans will not always work out but now I know and I accept it. It’s the mum life. It’s the life of love. One day at a time, petit á petit, we’ll get there.
Were there other surprises for you after you gave birth? Do share them in the comments below.
Have you heard about other things that happen postpartum that I didn’t mention? Do ask. Perhaps me or another mama will have an answer for you.