There are many aspects to a postpartum journey that I never thought about during pregnancy. The first year after having Valentina felt like one big learning curve. Now that I’m finally feeling like myself again, I figured now would be the perfect time to share about what my postpartum journey was like.
If you missed other posts in this series, you can catch up here:
What It’s Like to Have a Baby in the NICU
Valentina Antonia’s Birth Story
Our Infertility Journey: We’re Having a Baby!
Our Infertility Journey: The IVF Decision
I want to preface this post by saying that all postpartum journeys are different. My goal for sharing this is to be totally honest and transparent about what it was like for ME. There were many beautiful moments – too many to count, but there were equally challenging and hard times as we navigated new parenthood through a pandemic.
What surprised me most is that I didn’t feel like myself until at least one year postpartum! Nobody ever prepared me for that. There’s a lot of pressure to “bounce back” into exercise, work and intimacy and if you spend time on social media you’ll believe that many moms do. Most days, I wondered what was wrong with me that I wasn’t bouncing back as fast – it affected my mood, my self esteem and even my motivation.
Spoiler alert: There was absolutely nothing wrong with me! Here’s a month-by-month breakdown of my postpartum experience.
Valentina was born 5 1/2 weeks premature so I spent most of the first month of my postpartum journey in the NICU. It was surreal to leave the hospital after her birth without her. She was there for 18 days which felt like a lifetime. It was one of the scariest and most uncertain times of my life. I spent all day everyday there, holding her – and worrying about everything. I had envisioned a beautiful postpartum recovery at home with my baby, but instead I recovered from labor and delivery in the tiny bathroom of a hospital waiting room. You can read more about what it’s like to have a baby in the NICU here. Looking back, this experience set the stage for a lot of the anxiety I experienced in the months to follow.
Physically, I recovered from delivery quickly with no complications, which I attribute to my fitness level pre-baby. Any pain and soreness I had was gone by the time Valentina came home from the NICU. Mentally and emotionally, however, these first weeks took a lot out of me that needed time to be repaired.
The day Valentina came home with us was the happiest day! She was tiny and fragile and we were absolutely clueless about how to care for her. Our baby nurse met us the moment we arrived home and I felt a sense of peaceful bliss wash over me as we settled in that night finally home as a family of three. But that blissful first night turned into a blur over the next couple of months as I navigated life with a newborn, struggled with breastfeeding (read about my breastfeeding journey here) and began exclusively pumping around-the-clock. There were many days I never even changed out of pajamas! The days and nights were long but those months passed fast. David and I snuck in a couple of date nights while we had our baby nurse and got many nights of restful sleep thanks to her, but little did we know those would be our last for a very long time.
Once our time with the baby nurse was over, we trialed a couple of caregivers and took a few trips to Kentucky, Florida and Washington D.C. – mostly going about our lives as usual, but my pumping schedule and her newborn feeding schedule often made it challenging to leave the house for any length of time. At six weeks postpartum I was cleared to exercise but I couldn’t even find the time or energy to get to a barre class until at least a few weeks later and even then it was with very little consistency.
I went back to work teaching barre one day a week, but it was challenging for us to find good childcare. The other days of the week, I was settling into my role as a new mom. I took Valentina to music classes and new mom meet-ups even though my pumping schedule still got in the way of basically everything. We were enjoying her plentiful smiles, easy-going personality and ability to sleep anywhere so much so that I found I didn’t want to be away from her.
Once the pandemic hit and NYC was in lockdown mode, everything came to a halt and all of my postpartum anxiety came flooding back. I was grateful to have David home with me 24×7 helping with Valentina, but being home all day everyday with a newborn in an NYC apartment and a husband who works a demanding job wasn’t easy. With so many unknowns, we barely went outside at first and the lack of fresh air and sunlight took its toll.
I was still waking up to pump in the middle of the night and then it happened – Valentina abruptly stopped sleeping through the night. There were nights she would wake up as many as TEN times! We were zombies. We considered sleep training but couldn’t let her cry it out so we decided to let it work itself out.
After three long months at home, we decided to get out of the city so we rented a house in Florida for a few months. I could finally cut out my middle of the night pump and one daytime pump leaving me at 5 pumps per day which is still a lot but it felt like a break. Since we were home so much, I decided to keep going and continue pumping for Valentina for a full year. As a result, I struggled with postpartum weight loss and was trying to navigate a body I didn’t recognize and that didn’t feel like my own in bathing suit season.
Valentina was becoming more mobile, vocal and opinionated and I found ALL of my energy going toward her and not me. Florida was a nice change of scenery but we were still homebound and Valentina was crawling everywhere! She was eating solids like a pro which meant I spent a lot of time pureeing food and making her meals. To be clear, I wanted and loved to do this but, it was time consuming. She still wasn’t sleeping through the night and her napping was unpredictable too. My easy newborn had become not-so-easy anymore. Watching her grow right before our eyes month by month was incredible and exciting but David and I were more sleep deprived than we ever imagined we could be and I craved being able to work again like I used to.
We arrived back in New York and – after two months away – it felt SO GOOD to be home! With Valentina’s first birthday on the horizon, I had a plan in place to wean from the pump. We had worked with a sleep consultant during our last month in Florida to sleep train Valentina with a gentle method so we were all finally getting more sleep and we started to think again about childcare options for Valentina. I felt hopeful for the first time since the pandemic had started.
It wasn’t until one year postpartum and I put the pump away for good that I finally felt like myself again. I had pumped for the last time, Valentina was in daycare part time and I committed to my own self care in a more serious and consistent way. My weight started to normalize – physically, my body felt like my own again and I finally fit back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. Mentally, I felt like a switch had flipped as Valentina entered toddlerhood. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a spirited child but now that I feel more like myself, have solid self care practices in place and some time during the week to do things I’ve always loved, I feel like a much better parent.
So that’s my month-by month breakdown of my postpartum journey! It goes without saying that every pregnancy, birth, baby, breastfeeding journey and postpartum experience is different. Now, more than ever, it’s important to tune out what you think your postpartum experience should look like (I wish I had) and give yourself the time, space and whatever else you need to fully recover both mentally and physically.
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